Viewing of Social and Non-Social Information in Natural Scenes in High-Functioning Adults with ASD

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. Skripkauskaite1, J. Mayer2 and L. Slade3, (1)University of Roehampton, London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (2)University of Roehampton, London, United Kingdom, (3)Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, United Kingdom
Background: Research has suggested that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) exhibit less attentional engagement with social information than typical (e.g. Klin, Jones, Schultz, Volkmar, & Cohen, 2002), yet not consistently so. Thus, it remains unclear what the underlying mechanisms determining the presence of atypical social viewing in ASD are. Recently, it has been proposed that the content of the scene and the nature of the competing non-social information may moderate the reduced attention to social information seen in individuals with ASD (e.g. Chita-Tegmark, 2016).

Objectives: The primary aim of the current study was to evaluate whether high-functioning adults with ASD exhibited atypical attentional engagement with social and non-social information in naturalistic scenes. Secondly, the current study aimed to examine whether social content (i.e. number of people depicted) of the scene and/or subjective relevance (high and low) of the information within the scene as classified by independent judges may be explaining atypical social attention in ASD.

Methods: The sample consisted of 24 high-functioning adults with ASD and 26 age and IQ matched typically developed (TD) adults. Photographs of 24 naturalistic scenes depicting either low (1 - 4 people) or high (6 - 12 people) social content were used. Participants’ gaze behaviour (i.e. visit durations) data was collected using eye-tracking and analysed using multi-level modelling.

Results: Participants with ASD viewed social information and subjectively relevant areas of the scene less than TD adults. However, increased social content affected adults with ASD similarly to TD adults by reducing their attention to the scene overall, to the subjectively more relevant areas, and to the social information in particular.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the reduced social attention in ASD occurs due to the lack of social bias seen in TD adults rather than the non-social bias. Furthermore, it provides empirical support for the atypical prioritisation of perceived information in ASD by showing that adults with ASD pay less attention to the information judged as relevant by TD adults.