Brief social attention bias modification for children with autism spectrum disorder

Gail A. Alvares, Nigel T.M. Chen, Lies Notebaert, Joanna Granich, Ciara Mitchell, Andrew J.O. Whitehouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Reduced social attention is a hallmark feature in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), emerging as early as the first year of life. This difference represents a possible mechanism impacting upon the development of more complex social-communicative behaviors. The aim of this study was to develop and test the efficacy of a novel attention bias modification paradigm to alter social attention, specifically orienting to faces. Children with ASD (n = 66), aged between 5 and 12 years, were randomized to play either a social attention training or control game for 15 min. Children playing the training game were reinforced for attending to and engaging with social characters, whereas children in the control group were equally rewarded for attending to both social and non-social characters. Eye-tracking measures were obtained before and after gameplay. There was a significant increase in the percentage of first fixations to faces, relative to objects, after social attention training compared to a control group, associated with a medium effect size (partial η = 0.15). The degree of social attention change in the training group was inversely associated with restricted and repetitive behaviors and moderated by comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnoses, suggestive of differential training effects based on individual symptom profiles. By using the principles of attention bias modification, we demonstrated that social attention can be acutely modified in children with ASD, with an increased tendency to orient attention toward faces after brief social attention training. Modifying attentional biases may therefore represent a potential novel mechanism to alter the development of social communication trajectories. Autism Research 2019.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-535
Number of pages9
JournalAutism Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


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