Cognition and behavior: People with autism don't blink in sync
Unlike typical controls, adults with autism do not synchronize their eye blinks with those of other people, according to a study published in the July issue of Neuropsychologia1.
These same individuals look at the eyes as much as the controls do, however, suggesting that the result is not because those with autism avoid the eye region.
Several studies have shown that individuals with autism do not tend to look at the eye region when conversing with others and are less adept at recognizing others' emotions compared with controls. A 2010 study also found that children with autism are less likely than controls to yawn sympathetically, suggesting that they lack an otherwise shared biological impulse to match the inner states of other people.
The new study follows up on results published last year, showing that typically developing individuals blink their eyes in sync with someone talking to them, especially during pauses in speech2.
In the new study, 18 individuals with autism and 18 controls watched a man in a scene from a popular Japanese drama. The researchers found that the controls typically blinked within a quarter to half a second after the actor did. The correlation doesn't hold when everything except the actor's mouth or eyes is obscured, suggesting that people need to integrate information from different facial regions to feel in sync with the speaker.
The adults with autism in the study don't synchronize their blinking with the actor's, the researchers found. They also do not blink more during pauses in speech as controls do.
This lack of synchronization could contribute to their difficulty in establishing a rapport with peers, the researchers suggest.