Social can refer to a cluster of behaviours that

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.

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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.

            Eye-tracking technology has made research in social
attention easier and findings from experimental studies corresponds with
measures of social impairment and with autism symptom severity. All four
studies found that there was a declined in attention to social stimuli and a
significant increase in attention to non-social stimuli related to behavioural
measures of autism (Klin, Jones et al., 2002, Riby and Hancock, 2009b, Wilson,
Brock, and Palermo, 2010 and Shic et al., 2011). The eye-tracking study that
was carried out by Klin et al. (2002) was one of the first studies to show
deficiencies in social attention in individuals with ASD. The study conducted
by Klin et al. (2002) 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. 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 people. As much as the studies were very much alike in terms of
the patterns of results, they did differ significantly in nature of stimulus. Motion
presented in each study were either static (Riby and Hancock, 2009b and Wilson
et al., 2010) or dynamic (Shic et al., 2011 and Klin et al., 2002). Whether
participants were matched by their verbal intelligence quotient (IQ) or
non-verbal IQ were present in the four studies. However, what it was found to
share some similarities among these studies were that they contained low social
content. The low social content might thus be the reason why there was no
significant difference in attention to social stimuli as what they might have
reacted otherwise if social content was on the high side.

In contrary to the studies
exhibiting significant differences in social attention between individuals with
and without ASD, van der Geest, Kumner, Verbaten et al. (2002) proved
otherwise. This group of researchers conducted a study that involved two
studies with 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. Kemner et al. (2007), Parish-Morris et al.

(2013) and Kuhn et al. (2010) found no significant differences in the amount of
attention ASD and non-ASD people would be directed towards faces against objects.

Kumner et al. (2007) discovered that children, whether those with ASD or not,
spend similar amounts of time fixating on face drawings among the other
distractors. Kuhn et al. (2010), hypothesized that ASD individuals are less
susceptible to a magic trick because of their declined sensitivity to social
cues. However, it proved that ASD individuals were in fact more susceptible
than those without ASD and showed no significant differences in the amount of
time the two groups spent fixated on the magician’s face and eyes. Parish-Morris
et al. (2013) on the other hand presented short movies of faces and objects. Given
these mixed results presented, the variety of stimuli and experimental
procedures of the studies might be components that affect the difference in
social attention between the two groups.