Journal Article
Systematic Review
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The use of eye-tracking technology as a tool to evaluate social cognition in people with an intellectual disability: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

BACKGROUND: Relatively little is known about social cognition in people with intellectual disability (ID), and how this may support understanding of co-occurring autism. A limitation of previous research is that traditional social-cognitive tasks place a demand on domain-general cognition and language abilities. These tasks are not suitable for people with ID and lack the sensitivity to detect subtle social-cognitive processes. In autism research, eye-tracking technology has offered an effective method of evaluating social cognition-indicating associations between visual social attention and autism characteristics. The present systematic review synthesised research which has used eye-tracking technology to study social cognition in ID. A meta-analysis was used to explore whether visual attention on socially salient regions (SSRs) of stimuli during these tasks correlated with degree of autism characteristics presented on clinical assessment tools.

METHOD: Searches were conducted using four databases, research mailing lists, and citation tracking. Following in-depth screening and exclusion of studies with low methodological quality, 49 articles were included in the review. A correlational meta-analysis was run on Pearson's r values obtained from twelve studies, reporting the relationship between visual attention on SSRs and autism characteristics.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Eye-tracking technology was used to measure different social-cognitive abilities across a range of syndromic and non-syndromic ID groups. Restricted scan paths and eye-region avoidance appeared to impact people's ability to make explicit inferences about mental states and social cues. Readiness to attend to social stimuli also varied depending on social content and degree of familiarity. A meta-analysis using a random effects model revealed a significant negative correlation (r = -.28, [95% CI -.47, -.08]) between visual attention on SSRs and autism characteristics across ID groups. Together, these findings highlight how eye-tracking can be used as an accessible tool to measure more subtle social-cognitive processes, which appear to reflect variability in observable behaviour. Further research is needed to be able to explore additional covariates (e.g. ID severity, ADHD, anxiety) which may be related to visual attention on SSRs, to different degrees within syndromic and non-syndromic ID groups, in order to determine the specificity of the association with autism characteristics.

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