UBC Theses and Dissertations
Gaze behaviour of individuals with autistic traits while assessing peer status Forby, Leilani
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty understanding verbal and non-verbal cues, and display atypical gaze behaviour during social interactions. The aim of this study was to examine differences among groups of individuals with high, medium, and low levels of autistic traits with regard to their gaze behaviour and their ability to assess peers’ social status. 54 university students who completed the short Autism Quotient (AQ10) were eye-tracked as they watched six 20-second video clips of individuals (“targets”) involved in a group decision-making task. The specific experimental instruction to the participants was to "think about who you would want to work with on a subsequent task". The video clips included moments of debate, humour, interruptions, and cross talk, simulating natural, everyday social interactions. Fixations were labelled by region of interest (body, face, or eyes). Participants then completed the Dominance and Prestige Peer Rating Scales, which asked them to rate the video targets in terms of status, prestige, and dominance. High-scorers on the AQ10 (i.e., those with more autistic traits) did not differ from the low- and medium-scorers in the status, prestige, and dominance ratings they gave the video targets. Unlike the low- and medium-scorers, high-scorers attended to the body of high dominance targets significantly more than they attended to the low and medium dominance targets, suggesting high-scorers found the high dominance target far more compelling than the medium and low dominance targets. In all other cases, high-scorers did not differ from low- and medium-scorers in either their ability to evaluate social status or in gaze behaviour. This suggests that deficits exhibited by individuals with autistic traits in reading social cues may be reduced in tasks probing certain social skills abilities. The results are discussed in terms of their implications towards the Theory of Mind, Weak Central Coherence, and Social Motivation theories of autism.
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