The Relationship between Autistic Traits and Social Attention in Typically Developing Individuals
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by deficits in reciprocal social behavior and communication, as well as by repetitive behaviors and restrictive interests. One of the most salient and specific features of ASD is the deficit in social attention, including deficiency in gaze orienting and atypical social attention allocation. In the past decades, researchers have argued that ASD represents the upper extreme of a continuum of autistic traits which are distributed in the general population. According to this view, the present study aimed to further investigate the relationship between autistic traits and social attention in the typically developing population. Participants (N = 39) were categorized as having lower or higher autistic traits based upon the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire. We first assessed social attention using a gaze-cueing task, for which no group differences were found. Next, participants viewed a video clip with high social content twice, after which their fixations were classified as being on the face, the body or the background region. Participants with higher autistic traits exhibited atypical social attention allocation compared to individuals with lower autistic traits, with less time viewing the face region, specifically the happy face. Altogether, the current results did not support the relationship between autistic traits and the gaze-cueing effect, which could be due to the overall low level of autistic traits in the sample. Nevertheless, the present study provided insight into how the level of autistic traits in the typical developing population could be associated with the allocation of social attention and provided further evidence for the relationship between autistic traits and social attention.