Gaze aversion as a cognitive load management strategy in Autism and Williams syndrome

Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Deborah Riby, Lisa Whittle

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


During face-to-face questioning typically developing children and adults use gazeaversion (GA), away from their questioner, when thinking. GA increases with question difficulty and improves the accuracy of responses. This is the first study to investigate whether individuals with autism (ASD; associated with reduced sociability and atypical face gaze) and Williams syndrome (WS; associated with hypersociability and atypical face gaze) use GA to manage cognitive load during face-to-face interactions. Two studies were conducted exploring the typicality of GA during face-to-face questioning in i) ASD and ii) WS. Results. In Study 1, children with autism increased their GA as question difficulty increased. In addition they used most GA when thinking about their responses to questions, mirroring evidence from typically developingchildren. An important atypicality for participants was ASD was a significantly higher level of GA when listening to interlocutors. In Study 2, participants with WS showed very similar and typical patterns of GA in relation to question difficulty and across different points of the interaction. Two different neuro-developmental disorders, both characterized by significant problems with executive control of attention and atypicalities of social interactions, exhibited generally typical patterns of GA. All groups used most GA while thinking about questions, and increased their GA as questions got harder. In addition, children with ASD showed elevated levels of GA while listening to questions, but not while thinking about or making their responses, suggesting that they sometimes fail to see the relevance of attending to visual cues rather than actively avoid them. Results have important implications for how professionals interpret GA in these populations and for social skills training.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011
EventDevelopmental Psychology Section 2011 Annual Conference - Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Duration: 1 Sept 2011 → …


ConferenceDevelopmental Psychology Section 2011 Annual Conference
Period1/09/11 → …
Internet address


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