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Lack of eyeblink entrainments in autism spectrum disorders

Interpersonal synchrony is the temporal coordination of movements between individuals during social interactions. For example, it has been shown that listeners synchronize their eyeblinks to a speaker’s eyeblinks, especially at breakpoints of speech, when viewing a close-up video clip of the speaker’s face. We hypothesized that this interpersonal synchronous behavior would not be observed in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which are characterized by impaired social communication. To test this hypothesis, we examined eyeblink entrainments in adults with ASD. As we reported previously, the eyeblinks of adults without ASD were significantly synchronized with the speaker’s eyeblinks at pauses in his speech when they viewed the speaker’s entire face. However, the significant eyeblink synchronization disappeared when adults without ASD viewed only the speaker’s eyes or mouth, suggesting that information from the whole face, including information from both the eyes and the mouth, was necessary for eyeblink entrainment. By contrast, the ASD participants did not show any eyeblink synchronization with the speaker, even when viewing the speaker’s eyes and mouth simultaneously. The lack of eyeblink entrainment to the speaker in individuals with ASD suggests that they are not able to temporally attune themselves to others’ behaviors. The deficits in temporal coordination may impair effective social communication with others.

from Neuropsychologia