An Investigation of Attention to Social and Non-social Stimuli in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Typical Development Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Sabatino, Antoinette
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive, neurodevelopmental disorder that can be characterized by deficits in three symptom domains: significant impairments in language, social deficits, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. Narrowed interests, perseverative patterns of attention and reduced visual exploration have been conceptually linked to repetitive behaviors in ASD, specifically what are known as circumscribed interests (CI) within a narrow range of subject areas. Individuals with ASD that have CI partake in activities around their interest (collecting, manipulating, reading, playing, conversing, etc.) and these activities often lead to functional impairments. Eye-tracking research has investigated different responses to categories of images reflecting CI that capture attention during passive viewing tasks. Children and adults with ASD display an attentional bias towards certain categories of nonsocial images (e.g. train, automobiles, electronic devices, computers). This bias has been conceptualized to reflect an increased salience of nonsocial images relative to social images (e.g. faces) or other, more commonplace, nonsocial information (e.g. furniture, clothing, dishes). This dissertation aimed to extend these findings regarding atypical patterns of attention to social and nonsocial information in children with ASD by investigating reflexive attention and cognitive control over attention of images related to CI, skills essential for behavioral and brain development in children with ASD. Analyses included group comparisons across children with ASD and typically developing controls. Children with ASD demonstrated a visual preference for non-social objects relative to social information during a passive viewing attention task. During a visual saccade task, though children with ASD did demonstrate an increased rate of directional errors, task performance did not differ across social and non-social targets. Eye-tracking measures were found to be significantly related to symptom measures of social-communication impairments and restricted and repetitive behaviors in ASD. Exploratory comparisons across children with ASD and a pediatric OCD sample, another development disorder characterized by repetitive behaviors, are also discussed. This study provides support for the use of visual attention and oculomotor behavior to quantify impairments in ASD as well as discrete aspects of the repetitive behavior phenotype.
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  • In Copyright
  • Reznick, J. Steven
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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