Detecting where our partners direct their gaze is an important aspect of social interaction. An atypical gaze processing has been reported in autism. However, it remains controversial whether children and adults with autism spectrum disorder interpret indirect gaze direction with typical accuracy. This study investigated whether the detection of gaze direction toward an object is less accurate in autism spectrum disorder. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (n = 33) and intelligence quotients-matched and age-matched controls (n = 38) were asked to watch a series of synthetic faces looking at objects, and decide which of two objects was looked at. The angle formed by the two possible targets and the face varied following an adaptive procedure, in order to determine individual thresholds. We found that gaze direction detection was less accurate in autism spectrum disorder than in control participants. Our results suggest that the precision of gaze following may be one of the altered processes underlying social interaction difficulties in autism spectrum disorder.
Keywords: autism; face processing; gaze direction detection; perception; social cognition.
© The Author(s) 2016.