Last week I discussed a study showing that kids with low functioning autism identify noses better when these are presented upside down than when presented upright. In the context of that study, the authors suggested that these kids have an aversion to examining eyes directly and tend to focus on parts of the face away from the eyes.
This week a group of researchers from Yale University published a study on Nature that adds another piece to this puzzle. The authors presented a Pat-a-cake animation in which a character is clapping his hands. However, the video was presented using motion-capture, a technique that uses light dots to represent the joints of the body. The video was presented upside down in one side of the screen and upside up in the other side. Then the authors tracked the eye movements of children with autism, children with developmental delays, and typically developing children.
Here is a sample of one of the videos used:
Surprisingly, the children with autism concentrated on the motion-sound sync. That is, they focused on the hands clapping instead of other social aspects of the video. On the other hand, children with developmental delays, as well as typically developing children, seemed to focus on biological motion and socially relevant stimuli. Also, consistent with the previous study about eyes aversion I discussed, the kids with autism didn’t show a preference for the upright image – their eyes moved back and forth from the two sides of the screen. Instead, the typically developing kids preferred to look at the upright image. However, this pattern was observed only during videos that did not present the motion-sound.
In sum, this study show that children with autism seem to prefer motion-sound synchronicity, and this may explain why kids with autism prefer to look at the mouth area of the face instead of the eyes.
The article: Klin, A., Lin, D., Gorrindo, P., Ramsay, G., & Jones, W. (2009). Two-year-olds with autism orient to non-social contingencies rather than biological motion Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature07868
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