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Author Notes:

Warren Jones, PhD, Marcus Autism Center Tel.: 404-785-9550, warren.jones@emory.edu

J.M.M., A.K., and W.J. report no competing interests.

J.M.M. and W.J. developed the initial idea and design of the study and conducted the data analyses.

J.M.M., A.K., and W.J. wrote the manuscript.

The authors gratefully acknowledge all of the children and families for their participation and thank Laura Edwards, Sarah Shultz, Katherine Rice, Jessie Northrup, and Gordon Ramsay for discussions of data analysis as well as Casey Zampella and Tawny Tsang for assistance with measures of extraocular muscle movements.

J.M.M., A.K., and W.J. report no competing interests.


Research Funding:

This work was supported by grants to A.K. and W.J. from the Simons Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health (P50 MH081756-01, U54 MH66494).

Additional support was provided by the Marcus Foundation, the Whitehead Foundation, and the Georgia Research Alliance.


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Psychiatry

Mechanisms of diminished attention to eyes in autism


Journal Title:

American Journal of Psychiatry


Volume 174, Number 1


, Pages 26-35

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Two hypotheses, gaze aversion and gaze indifference, are commonly cited to explain a diagnostic hallmark of autism:reduced attention to others' eyes.Thetwo posit different areas of atypical brain function, different pathogenic models of disability, and different possible treatments. Evidence for and against each hypothesis ismixed but has thus far focused on older children and adults. The authors evaluated both mechanistic hypotheses in two sets of experiments at the time of initial diagnosis. Method:Eye-trackingdatawere collectedin862-year-olds: 26 with autism, tested at initial diagnosis; 38 matched typically developing children; and 22 matched developmentally delayed children. In two experiments, the authors measured response to direct and implicit cueing to look at the eyes. Results: When directly cued to look at the eyes, 2-year-olds with autism did not look away faster than did typically developing children; their latency varied neither categorically nor dimensionally by degree of eye cueing. Moreover, direct cueing had a stronger sustained effect on their amount of eye-looking than on that of typically developing children. When presented with implicit social cues for eye-looking, 2-year-olds with autism neither shifted their gaze away nor more subtly averted their gaze to peripheral locations. Conclusions: The results falsify the gaze aversion hypothesis; instead, at the time of initial diagnosis, diminished eye-looking in autism is consistent with passive insensitivity to the social signals in others' eyes.

Copyright information:

@ 2018 American Psychiatric Association

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