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Face inversion effects in autism: a combined looking time and pupillometric study



Previous research has found that in typically developing individuals, behavioral performance declines and electrophysiological brain responses are altered when the face is inverted. Such effects are generally attributed to disruption of configural information. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been found to show less pronounced inversion effects, a result in line with the view that featural processing of faces is enhanced in ASD. No study has determined if, or how, such local bias is reflected in the eye movements used in face observation. In this eye tracking study, looking time and pupil dilation were investigated during the presentation of upright and inverted faces in preschool children with ASD and typically developing preschoolers. On average, both children with ASD and typically developing children looked less at the face and the eye areas during inverted presentations than during upright presentations. Nevertheless, individuals with ASD had a stronger tendency than typically developing children to look at the same face features during upright and inverted presentations, which is suggestive of a local bias. Pupil dilation, reflecting increased processing load, was larger for inverted than upright faces in the ASD group only, and pupillary inversion effects were stronger in ASD than in typically developing children.

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