That looks familiar: attention allocation to familiar and unfamiliar faces in children with autism spectrum disorder



Gillespie-Smith KY, Doherty-Sneddon G, Hancock PJB & Riby DM (2014) That looks familiar: attention allocation to familiar and unfamiliar faces in children with autism spectrum disorder. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 19 (6), pp. 554-569.

Introduction.  Existing eye-tracking literature has shown that both adults and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show fewer and slower fixations on faces. Despite this reduced saliency and processing of other faces, recognition of their own face is reported to be more “typical” in nature. This study uses eye-tracking to explore the typicality of gaze patterns when children with ASD attend their own faces compared to other familiar and unfamiliar faces. Methods.  Eye-tracking methodology was used to explore fixation duration and time taken to fixate on the Eye and Mouth regions of familiar, unfamiliar and Self Faces. Twenty-one children with ASD (9–16 years) were compared to typically developing matched groups. Results.  There were no significant differences between children with ASD and typically matched groups for fixation patterns to the Eye and Mouth areas of all face types (familiar, unfamiliar and self). Correlational analyses showed that attention to the Eye area of unfamiliar and Self Faces was related to socio-communicative ability in children with ASD. Conclusions.  Levels of socio-communicative ability in children with ASD were related to gaze patterns on unfamiliar and Self Faces, but not familiar faces. This lack of relationship between ability and attention to familiar faces may indicate that children across the autism spectrum are able to fixate these faces in a similar way. The implications for these findings are discussed.

social attention; self; familiarity; autism; face perception

Cognitive Neuropsychiatry: Volume 19, Issue 6

Publication date31/12/2014
Publication date online07/08/2014
Date accepted by journal04/07/2014
PublisherTaylor and Francis

People (1)


Professor Peter Hancock

Professor Peter Hancock

Professor, Psychology