Eye Direction, Not Movement Direction, Predicts Attention Shifts in Those with Autism Spectrum Disorders
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Experiments suggesting that a change in eye gaze creates a reflexive attention shift tend to confound motion direction and terminal eye direction. However, motion and the onset of motion are known to capture attention. Current thinking about social cognition in autism suggests that there might be a deficit in responding to social (eye gaze) cues but not non-social (motion direction) cues, making the current study theoretically critical. We report an experiment in which motion direction and eye direction are decoupled in order to determine which predicts attention shifts in adults with and without autism. In the Eye Movement condition the eyes moved towards or away from a target. In the Face Movement condition the face image shifted while pupils remained stationary on the screen, resulting in terminal eye gaze and motion being in opposite directions. Reflexive attention shifts in both groups followed terminal eye direction, rather than direction of movement.
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