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Tuesday, Nov. 28
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Study analyzes autistic attention

A recent IU study revealed new insight into how people with autism direct their

The study, led by IU researcher Dan Kennedy, found participants with autism looked toward brighter pixelated areas on a TV screen, while subjects without the disorder were more interested in characters’ faces.

Three hundred times per second, an eye-tracking device recorded where each subject looked while watching an episode of “The Office.”

Kennedy said the gaze of participants with autism differed from that of the participants without the disorder about 10 percent of the time.

The data shows that people with autism are less stimulated by social cues, like faces, than “neurotypical,” individuals, Kennedy said.

But there are a few questions researchers are asking to confirm the patterns.

“Is there a reduction in social interest and social motivation in autism, or is there just greater interest and motivation to examine low-level visual features such as brightness?” Kennedy said. “Is something happening in the scene that predicts when this will happen?”

Kennedy said a brain scan could help explain what is exactly going on when an autistic person’s attention strays.

“We’re interested in using functional neuroimaging methods to examine what brain regions and networks underlie these differences in attention,” he said. “We can scan participants while they watch this same video and see which systems of the brain are differentially engaged in the two groups.”

The number of children with autism is up 78 percent from the last decade, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

If researchers test subjects at young ages, results could tell more about how autistic people develop attention to social stimuli over time, Kennedy said.

“An important question would be to ask whether young children with autism, or infants prospectively studied even before they receive a diagnosis, show a similar pattern of attention to low-level visual cues,” he said.

Though the findings imply a lot, Kennedy said it’s a small step.

“This research is just the beginning of trying to understand a very complicated neurodevelopmental disorder,” he said.

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