Habituation in Children with Traits Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
I. Arora1, A. Bellato2, D. Ropar3, T. Gliga4, C. Hollis5 and M. Groom6, (1)University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom, (2)The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (3)University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (4)Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck University of London, London, United Kingdom, (5)School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom, (6)Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Background: Abnormalities in habituation have been documented in ASD (McDiarmid, Bernardos and Rankin, 2017). These atypicalities have been attributed to sensory hyperresponsivity and hyperarousal in the literature. However, behavioural studies in the literature are inconsistent, possibly due to the diversity in stimuli used, alongside heterogeneity in the population being tested. Further, evidence suggests that there might be atypical salience of social information in individuals with ASD-related traits.

Objectives: This study investigated whether children with lower social skills show reduced habituation as compared to children with higher social skills. Further, we measured habituation to different types of stimuli to assess the stimulus-dependence of these effects.

Methods: 64 children between the ages of 4 to 12 years (mean age= 108.32 months, SD=21.696, 33 males and 31 females) took part in the study. The children were recruited as part of a local science event at the University Of Nottingham, U.K. and had no known diagnosis. We used an eye-tracking paradigm that measured participants’ attention to a repeating stimulus and a novel stimulus, presented alongside each other across multiple trials (adapted from Vivanti et al., 2016). Building on their paradigm, which used simple dynamic shapes (baseline condition), we added a social condition (with faces breaking into smiles) and a non-social condition (clocks with moving arms) to match the social condition in complexity and localized movement. We measured participants’ verbal ability using the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS). Social skills were measured using the Social Aptitude Scale, a parent-report measure sensitive to risk of ASD (Liddle, Batty and Goodman, 2009). The median SAS score in the sample was used to divide the sample into groups of higher and lower social ability.


Preliminary analyses have been conducted on this data. First, a repeated-measures mixed-design ANOVA was conducted to investigate individual differences in information sampling as measured by number of fixations to the screen. Results revealed a significant interaction: Gender x Condition (F(2, 45)= 3.766, p= 0.031). Follow-up analyses revealed that females demonstrated significantly more looking than males in the social condition only (t (62)= -2.047, p= .045). There was also a significant Gender x SAS group effect (F(1, 46)= 4.462, p= 0.040). Follow-up analyses revealed that only in females, lower social ability was associated with significantly lower number of fixations to the screen across conditions (t (25)= -2.601, p= .015). Given these differences in fixations, only proportion scores (ratio of looking towards the new versus repeating stimulus) were used to analyse habituation. Preliminary analyses did not reveal any differences in habituation based on stimulus type, gender, verbal or social ability.

Conclusions: Results indicate differences in information sampling based on gender, wherein social stimuli appear to be more salient for females than males. Further, social ability impacts information sampling differently in females than in males. While preliminary analyses indicate no differences in habituation based on social ability for different types of stimuli. In the poster, I will present a more fine-grained analysis of the habituation parameters. Further, data from clinical samples will also be presented.