The role of gaze direction in face memory in autism spectrum disorder

Safa R Zaki, Shannon A Johnson
Autism Research: Official Journal of the International Society for Autism Research 2013, 6 (4): 280-7
We tested the hypothesis that the direction of gaze of target faces may play a role in reported face recognition deficits in those with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In previous studies, typically developing children and adults better remembered faces in which the eyes were gazing directly at them compared with faces in which the eyes were averted. In the current study, high-functioning children and adolescents with an ASD and age- and IQ-matched typically developing controls were shown a series of pictures of faces in a study phase. These pictures were of individuals whose gaze was either directed straight ahead or whose gaze was averted to one side. We tested the memory for these study faces in a recognition task in which the faces were shown with their eyes closed. The typically developing group better remembered the direct-gaze faces, whereas the ASD participants did not show this effect. These results imply that there may be an important link between gaze direction and face recognition abilities in ASD.

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