Difficulties in processing emotional facial expressions is considered a central characteristic of children with autism spectrum condition (ASC). In addition, there is a growing interest in the use of virtual avatars capable of expressing emotions as an intervention aimed at improving the social skills of these individuals. One potential use of avatars is that they could enhance facial recognition and guide attention. However, this aspect needs further investigation. The aim of our study is to assess differences in eye gaze processes in children with ASC when they see avatar faces expressing emotions compared to real faces. Eye-tracking methodology was used to compare the performance of children with ASC between avatar and real faces. A repeated-measures general linear model was adopted to understand which characteristics of the stimuli could influence the stimuli’s fixation times. Survival analysis was performed to understand differences in exploration behaviour between avatar and real faces. Differences between emotion recognition accuracy and the number of fixations were evaluated through a paired t-test. Our results confirm that children with autism have higher capacities to process and recognize emotions when these are presented by avatar faces. Children with autism are more attracted to the mouth or the eyes depending on the stimulus type (avatar or real) and the emotion expressed by the stimulus. Also, they are more attracted to avatar faces expressing negative emotions (anger and sadness), and to real faces expressing surprise. Differences were not found regarding happiness. Finally, they show a higher degree of exploration of avatar faces. All these elements, such as interest in the avatar and reduced attention to the eyes, can offer important elements in planning an efficient intervention.

Comparing virtual vs real faces expressing emotions in children with autism: An eye-tracking study

Pino M. C.;Vagnetti R.
;
Valenti M.;Mazza M.
2021

Abstract

Difficulties in processing emotional facial expressions is considered a central characteristic of children with autism spectrum condition (ASC). In addition, there is a growing interest in the use of virtual avatars capable of expressing emotions as an intervention aimed at improving the social skills of these individuals. One potential use of avatars is that they could enhance facial recognition and guide attention. However, this aspect needs further investigation. The aim of our study is to assess differences in eye gaze processes in children with ASC when they see avatar faces expressing emotions compared to real faces. Eye-tracking methodology was used to compare the performance of children with ASC between avatar and real faces. A repeated-measures general linear model was adopted to understand which characteristics of the stimuli could influence the stimuli’s fixation times. Survival analysis was performed to understand differences in exploration behaviour between avatar and real faces. Differences between emotion recognition accuracy and the number of fixations were evaluated through a paired t-test. Our results confirm that children with autism have higher capacities to process and recognize emotions when these are presented by avatar faces. Children with autism are more attracted to the mouth or the eyes depending on the stimulus type (avatar or real) and the emotion expressed by the stimulus. Also, they are more attracted to avatar faces expressing negative emotions (anger and sadness), and to real faces expressing surprise. Differences were not found regarding happiness. Finally, they show a higher degree of exploration of avatar faces. All these elements, such as interest in the avatar and reduced attention to the eyes, can offer important elements in planning an efficient intervention.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11697/169962
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