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Circumscribed interests in autism: Can animals potentially re-engage social attention?

Valiyamattam, GJ and Katti, H and Chaganti, VK and O'Haire, ME and Sachdeva, V (2023) Circumscribed interests in autism: Can animals potentially re-engage social attention? In: Research in Developmental Disabilities, 137 .

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2023.104486


Background: Circumscribed interests (CI) in autism are highly fixated and repetitive interests, generally centering on non-social and idiosyncratic topics. The increased salience of CI objects often results in decreased social attention, thus interfering with social interactions. Behavioural, biomarker and neuroimaging research points to enhanced social functioning in autistic children in the presence of animals. For instance, neuroimaging studies report a greater activation of reward systems in the brain in response to animal stimuli whereas eye-tracking studies reveal a higher visual preference for animal faces in autistic individuals. This potentially greater social reward attached to animals, introduces the interesting and yet unexplored possibility that the presence of competing animal stimuli may reduce the disproportionately higher visual attention to CI objects. Method: We examined this using a paired-preference eye-tracking paradigm where images of human and animal faces were paired with CI and non-CI objects. 31 children (ASD n = 16; TD n = 15) participated in the study (3391 observations). Results: Autistic children showed a significantly greater visual attention to CI objects whereas typical controls showed a significantly greater visual attention to social images across pairings. Interestingly, pairing with a CI object significantly reduced the social attention elicited to human faces but not animal faces. Further, in pairings with CI objects, significantly greater sustained attention per visit was seen for animal faces when compared to human faces. Conclusions: These results thus suggest that social attention deficits in ASD may not be uniform across human and animal stimuli. Animals may comprise a potentially important stimulus category modulating visual attention in ASD.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publication: Research in Developmental Disabilities
Publisher: Elsevier Inc.
Additional Information: The copyright of this article belongs to the Authors.
Keywords: Animal-assisted intervention; Animals; Autism spectrum disorder; Children; Circumscribed interests; Eye-tracking; Repetitive behaviour; Restricted interests
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Neuroscience
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2023 07:45
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2023 07:45
URI: https://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/81857

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