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Eye Movement Difficulties in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Implications for Implicit Contextual Learning


Address for correspondence and reprints: Anastasia Kourkoulou, Psychiatry Department, Medical School, Aeginition Hospital, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 72 V. Sofias Avenue, 11528 Athens, Greece. E-mail:


It is widely accepted that we use contextual information to guide our gaze when searching for an object. People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also utilise contextual information in this way; yet, their visual search in tasks of this kind is much slower compared with people without ASD. The aim of the current study was to explore the reason for this by measuring eye movements. Eye movement analyses revealed that the slowing of visual search was not caused by making a greater number of fixations. Instead, participants in the ASD group were slower to launch their first saccade, and the duration of their fixations was longer. These results indicate that slowed search in ASD in contextual learning tasks is not due to differences in the spatial allocation of attention but due to temporal delays in the initial-reflexive orienting of attention and subsequent-focused attention. These results have broader implications for understanding the unusual attention profile of individuals with ASD and how their attention may be shaped by learning. Autism Res 2013, 6: 177–189. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.