Mutual eye gaze facilitates person categorization for typically developing children, but not for children with autism

Elizabeth Pellicano, C. Neil Macrae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Previous investigations of gaze processing in autism have demonstrated a pattern of intact and impaired performance. Although individuals with autism are capable of discriminating another's gaze, they fail to interpret gaze direction, especially within the context of sociocommunicative (i.e., mentalistic) interactions. Extending this general line of inquiry, we explored whether typical children and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were influenced by gaze direction in a task that demanded a core person-related judgment-namely, sex categorization. The results revealed that typically developing school-aged children were faster to classify faces by sex when targets displayed direct rather than averted gaze, or when the eyes were closed. This was not the case, however, for children with ASD, whose responses were unaffected by gaze direction. These findings suggest that difficulties in gaze processing in autism extend beyond sociocommunicative inferences to include basic person-perception judgments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1094-1099
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • face recognition
  • direction
  • infants
  • attention
  • sensitivity
  • perception
  • caregivers
  • disorders
  • looking
  • adults

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