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Author Notes:

Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to W.J. (warren.jones@emory.edu) or J.N.C. (constantino@wustl.edu)

See publication for full list of contributions.

We thank the families and children for their participation.

We thank Erika Mortenson, Sayli Sant, Teddi Gray, Yi Zhang, Laura Campbell, Leena Malik, Alyna Khan and Elizabeth McGarry for data collection and analysis; Andrew C. Heath and Arpana Agrawal for discussions of data analysis and statistics; Caroline Drain and Deborah Hopper for project coordination and data collection; Dejan Jovanovic and Rade Todorovic for contributions to twin family ascertainment; Megan Panther for administrative support; and Steve Kovar, Jose Paredes, and Maria Ly for designing and building the eye-tracking laboratory.

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Epidemiologic ascertainment of twins was made possible by the Missouri Family Register, a joint program of Washington University and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Authorization to access was approved by the MO DHSS Institutional Review Board (Sharon Ayers, Chair) under auspices of the project entitled, Early Quantitative Characterization of Reciprocal Social Behavior.


Research Funding:

Research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, HD068479 (JNC) and U54 HD087011 (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at Washington University, JNC PI); and by the National Institute of Mental Health, MH100019 (NM) and MH100029 (AK, WJ). Additional support provided by the Marcus Foundation, the Whitehead Foundation, and the Georgia Research Alliance.


  • Science & Technology
  • Multidisciplinary Sciences
  • Science & Technology - Other Topics
  • TWIN

Infant viewing of social scenes is under genetic control and atypical in autism

Journal Title:



Volume 547, Number 7663


, Pages 340-+

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Long before infants reach, crawl or walk, they explore the world by looking: they look to learn and to engage, giving preferential attention to social stimuli, including faces, face-like stimuli and biological motion. This capacity - social visual engagement - shapes typical infant development from birth and is pathognomonically impaired in children affected by autism. Here we show that variation in viewing of social scenes, including levels of preferential attention and the timing, direction and targeting of individual eye movements, is strongly influenced by genetic factors, with effects directly traceable to the active seeking of social information. In a series of eye-tracking experiments conducted with 338 toddlers, including 166 epidemiologically ascertained twins (enrolled by representative sampling from the general population), 88 non-twins with autism and 84 singleton controls, we find high monozygotic twin-twin concordance (0.91) and relatively low dizygotic concordance (0.35). Moreover, the characteristics that are the most highly heritable, preferential attention to eye and mouth regions of the face, are also those that are differentially decreased in children with autism (χ 2 = 64.03, P < 0.0001). These results implicate social visual engagement as a neurodevelopmental endophenotype not only for autism, but also for population-wide variation in social-information seeking. In addition, these results reveal a means of human biological niche construction, with phenotypic differences emerging from the interaction of individual genotypes with early life experience.

Copyright information:

© 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved.

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