Date Thesis Awarded

5-2020

Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Science (BS)

Department

Neuroscience

Advisor

Cheryl Dickter

Committee Members

Joshua Burk

Randolph Coleman

Abstract

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in communication and social interaction (Newschaffer et al., 2007). These dysfunctions may be explained by a difference in emotion identification, indicated by atypical gaze patterns of faces and scenes (Boraston et al., 2007; Sasson et al., 2008). Eye-tracking studies serve to illuminate these differences in attention, and reduced eye-region fixation time to social stimuli in ASD has predicted social competence in a study of ASD young adults (Klin et al., 2002). However, understanding the relationship between autistic traits and these eye-tracking differences is complicated as ASD is often comorbid with other psychiatric disorders, including social anxiety (Spain et al., 2016). Therefore, research must consider the interactions between these disorders and their individual or combined effects on behavior. The current study explored the interaction between a continuum of autistic traits and social anxiety on the gaze patterns of dynamic, emotional scenes. The results indicated there was no significant relationship between autistic traits and number of fixations on social aspects of a scene. However, there was a marginal increase in “fear” social fixations with increased autistic traits. Finally, for participants high in autistic traits, higher levels of social anxiety were associated with fewer “happy” social fixations. Together, these findings indicate that autistic traits may impact gaze patterns in a neurotypical population, and that these effects are influenced by levels of social anxiety.

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