Social objects with attention to others. Therefore, suggesting

Social attention, which has appeared with increasing traction due to
heighted interest in several different perspectives. Social attention is defined
as the process by which observers select and encode aspects of other people (Frank
et al., 2011). It is often used in detecting autism during the early stage,
being among the core deficiencies of autism (Charman, 2003; Sigman et al.,
2004). The term “social attention”
can be a perplex construct, as often, it can refer to a cluster of behaviours
that share the common goal of communicating with another person. Other times,
it can refer itself to Smith and Ulvund (2003) describe social
attention as the “hallmark of the human condition”, and the ability to coordinate attention
to events and objects with attention to others. Therefore, suggesting that
social attention in terms of social behaviour is the capability to attend
simultaneously to a shared object and a person, for example, in its most simple
level, eye gaze alternation and gesturing (Meindl and Cannella-Malone, 2011).

Autism on the other hand, is
the other area of focus alongside with social attention. Autism spectrum
disorders (ASD) are prevalent developmental disorders which affects
approximately one in every 150 children (CDC, 2007). Children of 36 months old
and younger showing pronounced deficits in communication, social interaction and
behavioural domains (American Psychiatric
Association, 2013) are more often than usual signs of autism. This
complex disorder is known to share similarities with Pervasive Developmental
Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Asperger’s
syndrome, and others. Although the aetiology of this disorder is unknown,
autism involves basic deficiencies such as in the areas of central logicality;
ability to procure what another person might be thinking just by observing
their behaviour, termed “theory of mind”. The lack of theory of mind
was proposed as a core of autism by Baron-Cohen et al (1985) while Frith
(1989), came up with the idea that weak central coherence was thought by some
to be the cause of central disturbance in autism.  Among other symptoms, persons with autism
frequently experience disturbances of different aspects of attention.

Attentional difference in the autistics as compared to normal controls are not
that simple. This paper will review the literature on the differences in social
attention between people with autism and those without while citing some
relevant empirical evidences.

            In relation
to social attention, people with ASD seem to have their aberrant eye gaze
mechanisms implicated. Past studies focused on the eye movements in children
with ASD revealed that there is a significant decrease in eye gaze duration and
absence of specific eye gaze fixation to the eyes and/or mouth when comparing
to the controls (Papagiannopoulou
et al., 2014). There were many studies that employed a range of
experimental designs. To name a few, static photographs and pictures, dynamic
audio-visual stimuli and free-viewing tasks were among the experimental designs
used. The many studies that will be being brought up will be focusing on
studies using controls on eye-tracking.


            Klin et al. (2002) did an eye-tracking study which was one
of the first studies to show deficiencies in social attention in individuals
with ASD. The study exhibited the significant time spent on attending to people
and to the background and irrelevant objects in the movie scene where they were
asked to watch. ASD individuals did spend lesser time on attending to people
than the other distractors in the scene. Results were replicated in other similar
studies. Riby and Hancock (2009b), Wilson, Brock, and Palermo (2010) and Shic
et al. (2011) all showed indistinguishable results where ASD individuals spend
proportionally more time looking at background objects than on attending to


After having reviewed a few
studies, it was observed that both groups, with and without autism exhibit same
fixation durations. van der Geest, Kumner, Verbaten et al. (2002), carried out
two studies involving human faces to observe gaze behaviour and gaze fixation
times. The first study comprised faces with emotional expressions while the
other study comprised faces with neutral expressions in different orientations.

Both studies showed same fixation duration. Also, similar to Anderson et al.

(2006), Key and Stone (2012) presented three different colours of human faces.

Similar to previous studies by geest et al.,