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Autism. 2012 Mar;16(2):151-62. doi: 10.1177/1362361311409258. Epub 2011 Aug 2.

Shall we do this together? Social gaze influences action control in a comparison group, but not in individuals with high-functioning autism.

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  • 1Max-Planck Institute for Neurological Research, Cologne, Germany. leonhard.schilbach@nf.mpg.de

Abstract

Perceiving someone else's gaze shift toward an object can influence how this object will be manipulated by the observer, suggesting a modulatory effect of a gaze-based social context on action control. High-functioning autism (HFA) is characterized by impairments of social interaction, which may be associated with an inability to automatically integrate socially relevant nonverbal cues when generating actions. To explore these hypotheses, we made use of a stimulus-response compatibility paradigm in which a comparison group and patients with HFA were asked to generate spatially congruent or incongruent motor responses to changes in a face, a face-like and an object stimulus. Results demonstrate that while in the comparison group being looked at by a virtual other leads to a reduction of reaction time costs associated with generating a spatially incongruent response, this effect is not present in the HFA group. We suggest that this modulatory effect of social gaze on action control might play an important role in direct social interactions by helping to coordinate one's actions with those of someone else. Future research should focus on these implicit mechanisms of interpersonal alignment ('online' social cognition), which might be at the very heart of the difficulties individuals with autism experience in everyday social encounters.

PMID:
21810910
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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