Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 245–261 | Cite as

Predictive Gaze During Observation of Irrational Actions in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions

  • L. E. Marsh
  • A. Pearson
  • D. Ropar
  • A. F. de C. Hamilton
Original Paper


Understanding irrational actions may require the observer to make mental state inferences about why an action was performed. Individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) have well documented difficulties with mentalizing; however, the degree to which rationality understanding is impaired in autism is not yet clear. The present study uses eye-tracking to measure online understanding of action rationality in individuals with ASC. Twenty adults with ASC and 20 typically developing controls, matched for age and IQ watched movies of rational and irrational actions while their eye movements were recorded. Measures of looking time, scan path and saccade latency were calculated. Results from looking time and scan path analyses demonstrate that participants with ASC have reduced visual attention to salient action features such as the action goal and the hand performing the action, regardless of action rationality. However, when participants with ASC do attend to these features, they are able to make anticipatory goal saccades as quickly as typically developing controls. Taken together these results indicate that individuals with autism have reduced attention to observed actions, but when attention is maintained, goal prediction is typical. We conclude that the basic mechanisms of action understanding are intact in individuals with ASC although there may be impairment in the top-down, social modulation of eye movements.


Autism Action understanding Rationality Eye tracking Social motivation 



This work was funded by the School of Psychology as part of LM’s PhD funding. We would like to thank Dhanya Pillai and all of the colleges and ASC support groups who helped with participant recruitment. We also thank all of the participants for their time and effort during the study.

Supplementary material

10803_2014_2215_MOESM1_ESM.doc (507 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 507 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. E. Marsh
    • 1
    • 2
  • A. Pearson
    • 1
    • 3
  • D. Ropar
    • 1
  • A. F. de C. Hamilton
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of Nottingham University Park, NottinghamUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of SurreyGuildford, SurreyUK
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  4. 4.Institute of Cognitive NeuroscienceUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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