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Psychophysiological measurements of direct eye gaze processing in children with autism spectrum disorders

City: 
Tampere
Country: 
Finland

Avoidance of eye contact is commonly observed in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but the cognitive and biological mechanisms underlying this avoidance are poorly understood. Research has suggested that faces in which the eyes exhibit a fearful expression may be misinterpreted as overly arousing or threatening. This study will use psychophysiological (skin conductance, heart rate, EEG) measurements to explore how children with ASD respond to exaggerated forms direct eye gaze – either by demonstrating a fearful reaction or a defensive reaction. These results will determine whether these fearful and defensive reactions are related to degree of social impairment. The findings from this study will progress the understanding of why children with ASD avoid eye contact, even with those people who are very familiar to them. Future research will explore how eye contact avoidance early in life can cause atypical development of neural specialization in face processing. Significance: By examining the factors by which children with autism respond to eye contact, data from this study will form the basis of training protocols to teach these children to respond more appropriately to facial images, possibly using other forms of complementary technology.