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Durham Research Online
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Gaze cueing, mental states, and the effect of autistic traits

Morgan, Emma J. and Smith, Daniel T. and Freeth, Megan (2021) 'Gaze cueing, mental states, and the effect of autistic traits.', Attention, perception, & psychophysics. .


The ability to interpret and follow the gaze of our social partners is an integral skill in human communication. Recent research has demonstrated that gaze following behaviour is influenced by theory of mind (ToM) processes. However, it has yet to be determined whether the modulation of gaze cueing by ToM is affected by individual differences, such as autistic traits. The aim of this experiment was to establish whether autistic traits in neurotypical populations affect the mediation of gaze cueing by ToM processes. This study used a gaze cueing paradigm within a change detection task. Participants’ perception of a gaze cue was manipulated such that they only believed the cue to be able to ‘see’ in one condition. The results revealed that participants in the Low Autistic Traits group were significantly influenced by the mental state of the gaze cue and were more accurate on valid trials when they believed the cue could ‘see’. By contrast, participants in the High Autistic Traits group were also more accurate on valid trials, but this was not influenced by the mental state of the gaze cue. This study therefore provides evidence that autistic traits influence the extent to which mental state attributions modulate social attention in neurotypical adults.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Date accepted:10 August 2021
Date deposited:21 September 2021
Date of first online publication:14 September 2021
Date first made open access:21 September 2021

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