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Sensitivity to eye gaze in autism: Is it normal? Is it automatic? Is it social?

  • Kate Nation (a1) and Sophia Penny (a1)


Children with autism are developmentally delayed in following the direction of another person's gaze in social situations. A number of studies have measured reflexive orienting to eye gaze cues using Posner-style laboratory tasks in children with autism. Some studies observe normal patterns of cueing, suggesting that children with autism are alert to the significance of the eyes, whereas other studies reveal an atypical pattern of cueing. We review this contradictive evidence to consider the extent to which sensitivity to gaze is normal, and ask whether apparently normal performance may be a consequence of atypical (nonsocial) mechanisms. Our review concludes by highlighting the importance of adopting a developmental perspective if we are to understand the reasons why people with autism process eye gaze information atypically.


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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kate Nation, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3UD, UK; E-mail:


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Preparation of this review was supported by the Medical Research Council. We thank Liz Pellicano, Shiri Einav, and Courtenay Norbury for their insightful comments on this manuscript and many helpful discussions.



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