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Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2015 Oct;168(7):564-72. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32331. Epub 2015 Jun 16.

Quantifying naturalistic social gaze in fragile X syndrome using a novel eye tracking paradigm.

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Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California.
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California.


A hallmark behavioral feature of fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the propensity for individuals with the syndrome to exhibit significant impairments in social gaze during interactions with others. However, previous studies employing eye tracking methodology to investigate this phenomenon have been limited to presenting static photographs or videos of social interactions rather than employing a real-life social partner. To improve upon previous studies, we used a customized eye tracking configuration to quantify the social gaze of 51 individuals with FXS and 19 controls, aged 14-28 years, while they engaged in a naturalistic face-to-face social interaction with a female experimenter. Importantly, our control group was matched to the FXS group on age, developmental functioning, and degree of autistic symptomatology. Results showed that participants with FXS spent significantly less time looking at the face and had shorter episodes (and longer inter-episodes) of social gaze than controls. Regression analyses indicated that communication ability predicted higher levels of social gaze in individuals with FXS, but not in controls. Conversely, degree of autistic symptoms predicted lower levels of social gaze in controls, but not in individuals with FXS. Taken together, these data indicate that naturalistic social gaze in FXS can be measured objectively using existing eye tracking technology during face-to-face social interactions. Given that impairments in social gaze were specific to FXS, this paradigm could be employed as an objective and ecologically valid outcome measure in ongoing Phase II/Phase III clinical trials of FXS-specific interventions.


autism; eye tracking; fragile X syndrome; social gaze

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