Research from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China has yielded more data about how people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) view faces. The study utilized eye-tracking technology to analyze the visual patterns of children with and without ASD. The researchers found that children on the spectrum spend less time looking at eyes, and most often focus their eyes just below a person’s right eye.

The research was based on 20 Chinese children with ASD and 21 control children matched for age and IQ. The researchers showed the children images of three faces. Then, they showed the children a series of faces that included new faces in addition to the first three. The children, connected to an eye-tracking apparatus so the researchers could determine which parts of the face they viewed, had to identify whether they had seen the faces before.

The children with ASD were worse at recognizing the familiar faces and they spent less time looking at faces than the neurotypical children. However, the results also revealed that both the children with and without ASD spent approximately the same amount of time looking at most regions of the face, with the exception of the eye region, which the ASD children spent less time on. Notably, the children with ASD looked more at the right eye and less at the left than the control group. They also tended to look just below the eye, rather than at the pupil. Finally, the ASD children were less likely to look from one eye to the other than the controls.

Some studies have shown that the left side of the face conveys more emotion than the right. This may be why people with ASD focus on the right side of the face.

Another recently published study appears to corroborate the evidence from this one. Published in Autism Research, the study evaluated data from 19 people (average age: 20 years-old) with a control and an intellectually disabled group and reported similar results.

This research is published in the Journal of Vision.

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