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Autistic traits modulate the influence of face masks on gaze perception

Williams, E. H. ORCID:, Thompson, N. M., McCray, G. and Chakrabarti, B. ORCID: (2023) Autistic traits modulate the influence of face masks on gaze perception. Scientific reports, 13 (1). 14921. ISSN 2045-2322

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-41900-0


Detecting when others are looking at us is a crucial social skill. Accordingly, a range of gaze angles is perceived as self-directed; this is termed the "cone of direct gaze" (CoDG). Multiple cues, such as nose and head orientation, are integrated during gaze perception. Thus, occluding the lower portion of the face, such as with face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, may influence how gaze is perceived. Individual differences in the prioritisation of eye-region and non-eye-region cues may modulate the influence of face masks on gaze perception. Autistic individuals, who may be more reliant on non-eye-region directional cues during gaze perception, might be differentially affected by face masks. In the present study, we compared the CoDG when viewing masked and unmasked faces (N = 157) and measured self-reported autistic traits. The CoDG was wider for masked compared to unmasked faces, suggesting that reduced reliability of lower face cues increases the range of gaze angles perceived as self-directed. Additionally, autistic traits positively predicted the magnitude of CoDG difference between masked and unmasked faces. This study provides crucial insights into the effect of face masks on gaze perception, and how they may affect autistic individuals to a greater extent.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
ID Code:113350
Uncontrolled Keywords:Humans, Reproducibility of Results, Masks, Perception, Autistic Disorder, Pandemics, COVID-19


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