That looks familiar: Attention allocation to familiar and unfamiliar faces in children with autism spectrum disorder

Karri Gillespie-Smith*, Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Peter J B Hancock, Deborah M. Riby

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Introduction. Existing eye-tracking literature has shown that both adults and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show fewer and slower fixations on faces. Despite this reduced saliency and processing of other faces, recognition of their own face is reported to be more "typical" in nature. This study uses eye-tracking to explore the typicality of gaze patterns when children with ASD attend their own faces compared to other familiar and unfamiliar faces.Methods. Eye-tracking methodology was used to explore fixation duration and time taken to fixate on the Eye and Mouth regions of familiar, unfamiliar and Self Faces. Twenty-one children with ASD (9-16 years) were compared to typically developing matched groups.Results. There were no significant differences between children with ASD and typically matched groups for fixation patterns to the Eye and Mouth areas of all face types (familiar, unfamiliar and self). Correlational analyses showed that attention to the Eye area of unfamiliar and Self Faces was related to socio-communicative ability in children with ASD.Conclusions. Levels of socio-communicative ability in children with ASD were related to gaze patterns on unfamiliar and Self Faces, but not familiar faces. This lack of relationship between ability and attention to familiar faces may indicate that children across the autism spectrum are able to fixate these faces in a similar way. The implications for these findings are discussed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)554-569
    Number of pages16
    JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
    Issue number6
    Early online date7 Aug 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2014


    • autism
    • face perception
    • familiarity
    • self
    • social attention

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Psychiatry and Mental health
    • Cognitive Neuroscience


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