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Perspective influences eye movements during real-life conversation: Mentalising about self versus others in autism

Barzy, Mahsa, Ferguson, Heather J., Williams, David M. (2020) Perspective influences eye movements during real-life conversation: Mentalising about self versus others in autism. Autism, . ISSN 1362-3613. (doi:10.1177/1362361320936820) (KAR id:81509)

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Socio-communication is profoundly impaired among autistic individuals. Difficulties representing others’ mental states have been linked to modulations of gaze and speech, which have also been shown to be impaired in autism. Despite these observed impairments in ‘real-world’ communicative settings, research has mostly focused on lab-based experiments, where the language is highly structured. In a pre-registered experiment, we recorded eye movements and verbal responses while adults (N=50) engaged in a real-life conversation. Using a novel approach, we also manipulated the perspective that participants adopted by asking them questions that were related to the self, a familiar other, or an unfamiliar other. Results replicated previous work, showing reduced attention to socially-relevant information among autistic participants (i.e. less time looking at the experimenter’s face, and more time looking around the background), compared to typically-developing controls. Importantly, perspective modulated social attention in both groups; talking about an unfamiliar other reduced attention to potentially distracting or resource-demanding social information, and increased looks to non-social background. Social attention did not differ between self and familiar other contexts, reflecting greater shared knowledge for familiar/similar others. Autistic participants spent more time looking at the background when talking about an unfamiliar other vs. themselves. Future research should investigate the developmental trajectory of this effect and the cognitive mechanisms underlying it.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/1362361320936820
Uncontrolled keywords: Perspective taking, Autism, Eye-Tracking, Real-Life Social Interactions, Topic of Conversation
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: Leverhulme Trust (
Depositing User: Heather Ferguson
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2020 05:23 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 18:57 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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Barzy, Mahsa.

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Ferguson, Heather J..

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Williams, David M..

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