Social attention patterns of autistic and non-autistic adults when viewing real versus reel people

Beatriz López, Nicola Jean Gregory, Megan Freeth

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Research consistently shows that autistic adults do not attend to faces as much as non-autistic adults. However, this conclusion is largely based on studies using pre-recorded videos or photographs as stimuli. In studies using real social scenarios, the evidence is not as clear. To explore the extent to which differences in findings relate to differences in the methodologies used across studies, we directly compared social attention of 32 autistic and 33 non-autistic adults when watching exactly the same video. However, half of the participants in each group were told simply to watch the video (Video condition), and the other half were led to believe they were watching a live webcam feed (‘Live’ condition). The results yielded no significant group differences in the ‘Live’ condition. However, significant group differences were found in the ‘Video’ condition. In this condition, non-autistic participants, but not autistic participants, showed a marked social bias towards faces. The findings highlight the importance of studying social attention combining different methods. Specifically, we argue that studies using pre-recorded footage and studies using real people tap into separate components contributing to social attention. One that is an innate, automatic component and one that is modulated by social norms.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Early online date30 Mar 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 30 Mar 2023


  • autism
  • ecological validity
  • eye-tracking
  • social attention

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