Social visual attentional engagement and memory in Phelan-McDermid syndrome and autism spectrum disorder: a pilot eye tracking study

Guillory, Sylvia B.; Baskett, Victoria Z.; Grosman, Hannah E.; McLaughlin, Christopher S.; Isenstein, Emily L.; Wilkinson, Emma; Weissman, Jordana; Britvan, Bari; Trelles, M. P.; Halpern, Danielle B.; Buxbaum, Joseph D.; Siper, Paige M.; Wang, A. T.; Kolevzon, Alexander; Foss-Feig, Jennifer H.

The current study used eye tracking to investigate attention and recognition memory in Phelan-McDermid syndrome (PMS), a rare genetic disorder characterized by intellectual disability, motor delays, and a high likelihood of comorbid autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Social deficits represent a core feature of ASD, including decreased propensity to orient to or show preference for social stimuli.

We used a visual paired-comparison task with both social and non-social images, assessing looking behavior to a novel image versus a previously viewed familiar image to characterize social attention and recognition memory in PMS (n = 22), idiopathic ASD (iASD, n = 38), and typically developing (TD) controls (n = 26). The idiopathic ASD cohort was divided into subgroups with intellectual disabilities (ID; developmental quotient < 70) and without (developmental quotient > 70) and the PMS group into those with and without a co-morbid ASD diagnosis.

On measures of attention, the PMS group with a comorbid ASD diagnosis spent less time viewing the social images compared to non-social images; the rate of looking back and forth between images was lowest in the iASD with ID group. Furthermore, while all groups demonstrated intact recognition memory when novel non-social stimuli were initially presented (pre-switch), participants with PMS showed no preference during the post-switch memory presentation. In iASD, the group without ID, but not the group with ID, showed a novelty preference for social stimuli. Across indices, individuals with PMS and ASD performed more similarly to PMS without ASD and less similarly to the iASD group.

These findings demonstrate further evidence of differences in attention and memory for social stimuli in ASD and provide contrasts between iASD and PMS.


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Also Published In

Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

More About This Work

Published Here
September 22, 2023


Visual attention, Autism spectrum disorder, Recognition memory, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Social processing, Eye tracking