Abstract: Gaze Fixation and the Neural Circuitry of Face Processing in Autism

DALTON, K. M., NACEWICZ, B. M., JOHNSTONE, T., SCHAEFER, H. S., GERNSBACHER, M. A., GOLDSMITH, H. H., ALEXANDER, A. L., & DAVIDSON, R. J. (2005). Gaze-fixation and the neural circuitry of face processing in autism. Nature Neuroscience, 8, 519-526.
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Diminished gaze fixation is one of the core features of autism and has been proposed to be associated with abnormalities in the neural circuitry of affect. We tested this hypothesis in two separate studies using eye tracking while measuring functional brain activity during facial discrimination tasks in individuals with autism and in typically developing individuals. Activation in the fusiform gyrus and amygdala was strongly and positively correlated with the time spent fixating the eyes in the autistic group in both studies, suggesting that diminished gaze fixation may account for the fusiform hypoactivation to faces commonly reported in autism. In addition, variation in eye fixation within autistic individuals was strongly and positively associated with amygdala activation across both studies, suggesting a heightened emotional response associated with gaze fixation in autism.