Disrupted Eye-gaze Following; A Stimuli Development Study to Identify a Potential Endophenotype of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Open Access
Author:
Sacksteder, Erin
Area of Honors:
Psychology
Degree:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Richard Alan Carlson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Richard Alan Carlson, Honors Advisor
  • Kenneth Levy, Faculty Reader
Keywords:
  • autism
  • endophenotype
  • eye-gaze following
  • joint attention
  • language development
Abstract:
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder. Key features of ASD include impaired social skills and communication. This includes impaired join attention and eye-gaze following. Whole-genome linkage studies have not been particularly successful in identifying genetic risks for autism. One alternative strategy is to search for genetic alleles associated with endophenotypes, or sub-clinical traits, of autism. These endophenotypes are often defined or found using self-surveys such as the Autistic Quotient and the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire. One proposed endophenotype is disrupted eye-gaze following, meaning difficultly telling where another person is looking. This stems from the lack of eye contact associated with ASD. Eye-gaze following is extremely important in early language development, possibly implicating a cause for language delay in individuals with ASD. This study focused on creating stimuli and a task to measure eye-gaze following behavior. The stimuli consisted of photos of actors looking at objects with either both their head and eyes or just with their eyes and their head facing forwards toward the camera. The task was tested on 56 non-autistic adult participants with either high or low AQ scores. No significant correlation was found between AQ score and performance on the eye-gaze following task. Future testing should include open-ended responses, using BAPQ scores instead of AQ scores, and an item analysis on the stimuli.