Effect of race on Gaze Cueing in adults with high and low autistic traits

BMC Psychol. 2023 Sep 15;11(1):275. doi: 10.1186/s40359-023-01307-y.


Background: Observing the direction of gaze of another person leads to shifting of attention in the same direction (gaze-cueing effect - GCE), a social-cognitive ability known as joint or social attention. Racial attitudes can influence the magnitude of GCE since it has been shown that White people showing a strong race ingroup preference follow the gaze only of White, and not Black, faces. Individuals with high autistic traits have difficulties in social-cognitive abilities that can disrupt the learning of socially shared racial attitudes. Our aim was to investigate in White Italian adults whether individuals with higher autistic traits (measured by the Autism Spectrum Quotient) show reduced implicit racial bias (measured by the Implicit Association Test) and if this bias would lead to differences in the gaze cueing effect (GCE) triggered by gaze direction of faces of different races (measured by the Gaze Cueing Task).

Methods: In an online study, participants (N = 165; 132 females; Mean age = 22.9; SD = 4.76) filled in the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) questionnaire, then performed a Gaze Cueing Task, followed and by an Implicit Association Test.

Results: Linear regression and linear mixed model analyses showed in the IAT task the presence of the same implicit ingroup bias for all participants, which was not predicted by the AQ score, while in the Gaze Cueing Task the GCE differed depending on the AQ score of the participants. Specifically, participants with low-medium, medium, and medium-high autistic traits (AQ = -1SD; AQ = mean; AQ = + 1SD respectively) presented the GCE for both ingroup and outgroup cueing faces, whereas participants with high autistic traits (AQ = + 2SD) only for ingroup faces.

Conclusions: In White Italian adults the presence of an implicit ingroup bias seems to influence the GCE, but it is not always true that the individuals showing an implicit ingroup bias do not orient their attention in the direction of gaze of the outgroup individuals. Instead, the GCE seems to be modulated by the level of autistic traits. That is, individuals with higher autistic traits seem to prioritize joint attention with only their ingroup members.

Keywords: Gaze-cueing effect; High and Low autistic traits; Implicit race bias; Ingroup bias.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder*
  • Cognition
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Social Skills
  • Young Adult