Autistic children are able to interpret the mental state of others by looking at their eyes, contrary to previous research, a new University of Nottingham study has found.
In findings that contradict previous studies, psychologists found that autistic children can read a strangers mental state based on that persons eyes. Autistic children have long been thought to be poor at interpreting peoples mental states based on facial expressions, especially expressions around the eyes.
Some researchers believe that this lack of ability could be central to the social problems experienced by autistic children and adults.
But the latest findings cast doubt on this hypothesis. A study at The University of Nottingham found that autistic children were able to interpret mental states when looking at animated facial expressions. The findings also suggest that the use of moving images, rather than conventional still pictures, gives a much more accurate measure of the abilities of autistic children.
Researchers hope that by increasing understanding of autism, their findings may ultimately help in the teaching and treatment of people with the condition.
Published in the latest issue of the journal Child Development, the study was led by Dr Elisa Back. Her co-researchers were Professor Peter Mitchell and Dr Danielle Ropar of the School of Psychology at The University of Nottingham.
Dr Back said: "Previous findings show that children and adolescents with autism may have difficulty reading mental states from facial expressions but our results suggest that this is not due to an inability to interpret information from the eyes.
"Surprisingly, autistic children seemed particularly reliant on the eyes and also the mouth when making mentalistic inferences.
"The conclusions of previous research are largely based on methods that present static photographs to participants. Our study indicates that a more accurate
Contact: Tim Utton
University of Nottingham