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Gaze aversion during social style interactions in autism spectrum disorder and Williams syndrome

Doherty-Sneddon, G; Whittle, L; Riby, DM

Gaze aversion during social style interactions in autism spectrum disorder and Williams syndrome Thumbnail


G Doherty-Sneddon

L Whittle


During face-to-face interactions typically developing individuals use gaze aversion (GA), away from their questioner, when thinking. GA is also used when individuals with autism (ASD) and Williams syndrome (WS) are thinking during question-answer interactions. We investigated GA strategies during face-to-face social style interactions with familiar and unfamiliar interlocutors. Participants with WS and ASD used overall typical amounts/patterns of GA with all participants looking away most while thinking and remembering (in contrast to listening and speaking). However there were a couple of specific disorder related differences: participants with WS looked away less when thinking and interacting with unfamiliar interlocutors; in typical development and WS familiarity was associated with reduced gaze aversion, however no such difference was evident in ASD. Results inform typical/atypical social and cognitive phenotypes. We conclude that gaze aversion serves some common functions in typical and atypical development in terms of managing the cognitive and social load of interactions. There are some specific idiosyncracies associated with managing familiarity in ASD and WS with elevated sociability with unfamiliar others in WS and a lack of differentiation to interlocutor familiarity in ASD. Regardless of the familiarity of the interlocutor, GA is associated with thinking for typically developing as well as atypically developing groups. Social skills training must take this into account.


Doherty-Sneddon, G., Whittle, L., & Riby, D. (2013). Gaze aversion during social style interactions in autism spectrum disorder and Williams syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(1), 616-626.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2013
Deposit Date Jul 2, 2013
Publicly Available Date Dec 16, 2014
Journal Research in Developmental Disabilities
Print ISSN 0891-4222
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 34
Issue 1
Pages 616-626
Keywords Eye contact, Gaze, Williams syndrome, Gaze aversion, Autism spectrum disorder.


Accepted Journal Article (285 Kb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Research in Developmental Disabilities. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 1, January 2013, 10.1016/j.ridd.2012.09.022.

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