Attention to faces in social context in children with neurofibromatosis type 1

Amelia K. Lewis, Melanie A. Porter, Tracey A. Williams, Samantha Bzishvili, Kathryn N. North, Jonathan M. Payne*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Aim: To examine visual attention to faces within social scenes in children with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) and typically developing peers. Method: Using eye-tracking technology we investigated the time taken to fixate on a face and the percentage of time spent attending to faces relative to the rest of the screen within social scenes in 24 children with NF1 (17 females, seven males; mean age 10y 4mo [SD 1y 9mo]). Results were compared with those of 24 age-matched typically developing controls (11 females, 13 males; mean age 10y 3mo [SD 2y]). Results: There was no significant between-group differences in time taken to initially fixate on a face (p=0.617); however, children with NF1 spent less time attending to faces within scenes than controls (p=0.048). Decreased attention to faces was associated with elevated autism traits in children with NF1. Interpretation: Children with NF1 spend less time attending to faces than typically developing children when presented in social scenes. Our findings contribute to a growing body of literature suggesting that abnormal face processing is a key aspect of the social-cognitive phenotype of NF1 and appears to be related to autism spectrum disorder traits. Clinicians should consider the impact of reduced attention to faces when designing and implementing treatment programmes for social dysfunction in this population. What this paper adds: Children with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) demonstrated atypical gaze behaviour when attending to faces. NF1 gaze behaviour was characterized by normal initial fixation on faces but shorter face dwell time. Decreased attention to faces was associated with elevated autism traits in the sample with NF1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-180
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental Medicine and Child Neurology
Volume61
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

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