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Published November 4, 2015 | Accepted Version + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Atypical Visual Saliency in Autism Spectrum Disorder Quantified through Model-Based Eye Tracking


The social difficulties that are a hallmark of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are thought to arise, at least in part, from atypical attention toward stimuli and their features. To investigate this hypothesis comprehensively, we characterized 700 complex natural scene images with a novel three-layered saliency model that incorporated pixel-level (e.g., contrast), object-level (e.g., shape), and semantic-level attributes (e.g., faces) on 5,551 annotated objects. Compared with matched controls, people with ASD had a stronger image center bias regardless of object distribution, reduced saliency for faces and for locations indicated by social gaze, and yet a general increase in pixel-level saliency at the expense of semantic-level saliency. These results were further corroborated by direct analysis of fixation characteristics and investigation of feature interactions. Our results for the first time quantify atypical visual attention in ASD across multiple levels and categories of objects.

Additional Information

© 2015 Elsevier Inc. Received 25 April 2015, Revised 21 July 2015, Accepted 21 September 2015, Available online 22 October 2015. Published: October 22, 2015. We thank Elina Veytsman and Jessica Hopkins for help in recruiting research participants, Justin Lee and Tim Armstrong for collecting the data, Lynn Paul for psychological assessments, and Laurent Itti for valuable comments. This research was supported by a post-doctoral fellowship from the Autism Science Foundation (S.W.), a Fonds de Recherche du Québec en Nature et Technologies (FRQNT) predoctoral fellowship (X.M.D.), a NIH grant (K99MH094409/R00MH094409) and NARSAD Young Investigator Award (D.P.K.), the Caltech Conte Center for the Neurobiology of Social Decision Making from NIMH and a grant from Simons Foundation (SFARI Award 346839, R.A.), and the Singapore Defense Innovative Research Program 9014100596 and the Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 2 MOE2014-T2-1-144 (Q.Z.). Author Contributions: S.W., D.P.K., R.A., and Q.Z. designed experiments. S.W., M.J., and X.M.D. performed experiments. S.W., M.J., and Q.Z. analyzed data. E.A.L. helped with subject recruitment and assessment. S.W., R.A., and Q.Z. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and contributed toward the manuscript.

Attached Files

Accepted Version - nihms721468.pdf

Supplemental Material - mmc1__4_.pdf


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