Assessing Social Attention in Autism
Authors:Nikita Lowell, Leanne Chukoskie, Susie Lunardi, Jeanne Townsend
- Marissa Westerfield, Associate Project Scientist, University of California, San Diego
- Marla Zinni, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, San Diego
While there are a variety of treatment options for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is currently difficult to evaluate their efficacy. Our long-term goal is to develop a series of outcome measures that can be used to assess change in various underlying domains as a result of therapy or other interventions. Here we present work on one particular task designed to assess social attention in ASD. We modified a task used by Swanson, Serlin, & Siller (2013) in which dynamic videos depicting a model’s head and face were used to evaluate joint social attention in young children. We added a condition that allowed us to evaluate the participant’s physiological arousal in response to direct and averted gaze, and altered the timing of the trial stimuli to evaluate whether participants were likely to ‘follow’ the model’s gaze to target stimuli. Galvanic skin response (GSR), heart rate variability (HRV), and eye-tracking data were collected from adult participants as they viewed video clips of a model first directing her gaze either at or away from the participant, and then either toward or away from a target stimulus appearing in one of the four corners of the video screen. Preliminary analysis of HRV indicates that control participants show a diphasic response with an initial and long-lasting deceleration following trial onset interrupted by a brief acceleration. Greater acceleration was observed in the direct gaze condition compared to the averted condition. Analysis of GSR did not reveal any difference between conditions. Analysis of saccadic latency is currently underway. Follow-up work will be done to gauge the sensitivity of these measures.