Cultural Influence on Natural Scene Viewing in Autism: A Comparison Between Japan and the UK

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
N. Harada1,2, E. Pellicano2, Y. Tojo3, T. Hasegawa4, H. Osanai5 and A. Senju1, (1)Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London, London, United Kingdom, (2)Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), UCL Institute of Education, University College London, London, United Kingdom, (3)Ibaraki University, Ibaraki, Japan, (4)The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, JAPAN, (5)Musashino Higashi Gakuen, Musashino-shi, JAPAN
Background: It is well established that the broader social context in which we live, such as cultural background, plays a critical role in shaping perceptual and cognitive development. For example, previous cross-cultural research has found that East Asian and Western adults have different viewing styles while looking at non-social naturalistic pictures – Western adults tend to look longer at the focal objects whilst East Asian adults focus more on background information (Chua, Boland & Nisbett, 2005). There is very little research, however, on the extent and nature of these cultural differences in children, and especially in children on the autism spectrum.

Objectives: We therefore investigated (1) whether cultural differences in non-social perception can also be observed in typically developing children, and (2) whether autistic children also show similar perceptual patterns as their same-culture counterparts.

Methods: Four groups of children took part in the study; Typical Japanese (n=31), Typical British (n=27), Autistic Japanese (n=31) and Autistic British (n=26), all aged between 6 and 18 years, and matched in terms of intellectual ability and gender. All Japanese children were tested in Tokyo; all children in the UK were tested in London. We used static images from Chua et al., each of which contained one focal object (e.g., animal or vehicle) in naturalistic backgrounds (e.g., mountains). We excluded stimuli containing human images from our study to focus on non-social perception. Children were asked to look freely at a series of 14 images on the screen. Each picture was presented for 3 seconds.

Results: Participants’ eye movements were recorded using a Tobii TX300 eye tracker and the proportions of time spent looking at the focal and background areas of interest (AOIs) were calculated for analyses. We found an interaction between cultural backgrounds and AOIs, F(1,111)=8.95, p=.003. Japanese children looked significantly longer on the background AOI than on the focal AOI, t(113)=-3.06, p=.003, opposite to British children who looked longer on the focal AOI, t(113)=3.06, p=.003. Critically, however, there was no significant effect of diagnostic status (autistic, typical) and no interactions involving diagnostic status, all ps≤.43

Conclusions: This is the first studies to examine cultural differences in non-social perception in school-age typical and autistic children with eye-tracking technique. We found strong cultural influences on non-social perception between Japanese and British participants, and these influences were similar across autistic and typical children. These results suggest that children on the autism spectrum are as much influenced by their broader social environments, such as cultural background, as their typically developing counterparts when engaging in a non-social free-viewing task. Future research should examine the role of cultural background in the development of perception and cognition in autistic individuals in order to draw a fuller picture of the condition.