Children with autism observe social interactions in an idiosyncratic manner

Inbar Avni, Gal Meiri, Asif Bar-Sinai, Doron Reboh, Liora Manelis, Hagit Flusser, Analya Michaelovski, Idan Menashe, Ilan Dinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Previous eye-tracking studies have reported that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) fixate less on faces in comparison to controls. To properly understand social interactions, however, children must gaze not only at faces but also at actions, gestures, body movements, contextual details, and objects, thereby creating specific gaze patterns when observing specific social interactions. We presented three different movies with social interactions to 111 children (71 with ASD) who watched each of the movies twice. Typically developing children viewed the movies in a remarkably predictable and reproducible manner, exhibiting gaze patterns that were similar to the mean gaze pattern of other controls, with strong correlations across individuals (intersubject correlations) and across movie presentations (intra-subject correlations). In contrast, children with ASD exhibited significantly more variable/idiosyncratic gaze patterns that differed from the mean gaze pattern of controls and were weakly correlated across individuals and presentations. Most importantly, quantification of gaze idiosyncrasy in individual children enabled separation of ASD and control children with higher sensitivity and specificity than traditional measures such as time gazing at faces. Individual magnitudes of gaze idiosyncrasy were also significantly correlated with ASD severity and cognitive scores and were significantly correlated across movies and movie presentations, demonstrating clinical sensitivity and reliability. These results suggest that gaze idiosyncrasy is a potent behavioral abnormality that characterizes a considerable number of children with ASD and may contribute to their impaired development. Quantification of gaze idiosyncrasy in individual children may aid in assessing symptom severity and their change in response to treatments. Autism Res 2020, 13: 935-946.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-946
Number of pages12
JournalAutism Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • ecological
  • eye position
  • eye tracking
  • gaze
  • idiosyncrasy
  • movies
  • naturalistic
  • outcome measure
  • social
  • symptom severity
  • variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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