Looking at images with human figures: comparison between autistic and normal children

J Autism Dev Disord. 2002 Apr;32(2):69-75. doi: 10.1023/a:1014832420206.


Based on clinical observations of abnormal gaze behavior of autistic children, it has been suggested that autistic children have a problem in processing social information. Several studies on eye movements have indeed found indications that children with autism show particularly abnormal gaze behavior in relation to social stimuli. However, the methodology used in such investigations did not allow for precise gaze analysis. In the present study, the looking behavior of autistic children toward cartoon-like scenes that included a human figure was measured quantitatively using an infrared eye-tracking device. Fixation behavior of autistic children was similar to that of their age- and IQ-matched normal peers. These results do not support the notion that autistic children have a specific problem in processing socially loaded visual stimuli. Also, there is no indication for an abnormality in gaze behavior in relation to neutral objects. It is suggested that the often-reported abnormal use of gaze in everyday life is not related to the nature of the visual stimuli but that other factors, like social interaction, may play a decisive role.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Child
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Form Perception*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Social Perception
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception*