Selective attention to face cues in adults with and without autism spectrum disorders

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Rigby, Sarah Nugent
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Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) use atypical approaches when processing facial stimuli. The first purpose of this research was to investigate face processing abilities in adults with ASD using several tasks, to compare patterns of interference between static identity and expression processing in adults with ASD and typical adults, and to investigate whether the introduction of dynamic cues caused members of one or both groups to shift from a global to a more local processing strategy. The second purpose was to compare the gaze behaviour of groups of participants as they viewed static and dynamic single- and multiple-character scenes. I tested 16 adults with ASD and 16 sex-, age-, and IQ-matched typical controls. In Study 1, participants completed a task designed to assess processing speed, another to measure visual processing bias, and two tasks involving static and dynamic face stimuli -- an identity-matching task and a Garner selective attention task. Adults with ASD were less sensitive to facial identity, and, unlike typical controls, showed negligible interference between identity and expression processing when judging both static and moving faces. In Study 2, participants viewed scenes while their gaze behaviour was recorded. Overall, participants with ASD showed fewer and shorter fixations on faces compared to their peers. Additionally, whereas the introduction of motion and increased social complexity of the scenes affected the gaze behaviour of typical adults, only the latter manipulation affected adults with ASD. My findings emphasize the importance of using dynamic displays when studying typical and atypical face processing mechanisms.
autism spectrum disorders, dynamic, face processing, gaze patterns, selective attention