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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2004 Mar;45(3):445-58.

Reflexive orienting in response to eye gaze and an arrow in children with and without autism.

Author information

  • 1Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan. atsushi@darwin.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp



This study investigated whether another person's social attention, specifically the direction of their eye gaze, and a non-social directional cue, an arrow, triggered reflexive orienting in children with and without autism in an experimental situation.


Children with autism and typically developed children participated in one of two experiments. Both experiments involved the localization of a target that appeared to the left or right of the fixation point. Before the target appeared, the participant's attention was cued to the left or right by either an arrow or the direction of eye gaze on a computerized face.


Children with autism were slower to respond, which suggests a slight difference in the general cognitive ability of the groups. In Experiment 1, although the participants were instructed to disregard the cue and the target was correctly cued in only 50% of the trials, both groups of children responded significantly faster to cued targets than to uncued targets, regardless of the cue. In Experiment 2, children were instructed to attend to the direction opposite that of the cues and the target was correctly cued in only 20% of the trials. Typically developed children located targets cued by eye gaze more quickly, while the arrow cue did not trigger such reflexive orienting in these children. However, both social and non-social cues shifted attention to the cued location in children with autism.


These results indicate that eye gaze attracted attention more effectively than the arrow in typically developed children, while children with autism shifted their attention equally in response to eye gaze and arrow direction, failing to show preferential sensitivity to the social cue. Difficulty in shifting controlled attention to the instructed side was also found in children with autism.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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