Eye Gaze in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Review of Neural Evidence for the Eye Avoidance Hypothesis

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Abstract

Reduced eye contact early in life may play a role in the developmental pathways that culminate in a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. However, there are contradictory theories regarding the neural mechanisms involved. According to the amygdala theory of autism, reduced eye contact results from a hypoactive amygdala that fails to flag eyes as salient. However, the eye avoidance hypothesis proposes the opposite—that amygdala hyperactivity causes eye avoidance. This review evaluated studies that measured the relationship between eye gaze and activity in the ‘social brain’ when viewing facial stimuli. Of the reviewed studies, eight of eleven supported the eye avoidance hypothesis. These results suggest eye avoidance may be used to reduce amygdala-related hyperarousal among people on the autism spectrum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1884-1905
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Volume53
Issue number5
Early online date4 Feb 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

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