Gaze-oriented Attention in fearful and happy facial expressions varies with autistic traits
43.433, Monday, May 13, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Orchid Ballroom
Amandine Lassalle1, Roxane Jeanne Itier1; 1University of Waterloo
Gaze is an important social signal used to determine others intentions. Previous gaze-cuing studies have shown faster responses to gazed-at targets than to non-gazed-at targets. This gaze orienting effect (GOE) reflects the spontaneous orientation of attention toward gaze direction, and is negatively correlated with the autism quotient (AQ) score indexing autistic traits in the general population. Thus, in accordance with clinical observations of autistic individuals, participants with many autistic traits seem to show a weaker gaze following than those with little autistic traits. Recent studies have also shown that attention orienting by gaze is modulated by the expression of the face cue. It remains unknown, however, whether this emotional effect varies as a function of autistic traits. The present ERP study investigated whether autistic traits impact the modulation of the GOE by fearful and happy emotions. Two groups were tested, one group with low AQ scores (<18, less autistic traits) and the other with high AQ scores (>26, more autistic traits). Stimuli consisted of centrally presented neutral faces dynamically averting their gaze to the side before expressing fear or happiness. Participants localized the subsequently presented target as fast as possible while maintaining their gaze centered. The GOE was modulated by emotions only in the high AQ group due to a decreased GOE for happy compared to fearful faces. While responses to fearful faces were similar in both groups, the GOE for happy faces was smaller in individuals with high compared to low AQ. In addition, ERP amplitudes to the target (P1 component) showed a gaze congruency effect in the low but not in the high AQ group indicating group differences in the neural processes involved in gaze-oriented attention. The results suggest a diminished sensitivity to social signals such as happy faces and gaze in individuals with many autistic traits.