Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robert R. Althoff


The eyes are a valuable source of information for a range of social processes. The stare-in-the-crowd effect describes the ability to detect self-directed gaze. Impairment in gaze detection mechanisms, such as the stare-in-the-crowd effect, has implications for social interactions and development of social relationships. Given the frequency with which humans utilize gaze detection in interactions, there is a need to better characterize the stare-in-the-crowd effect. This study utilized a previously validated dynamic visual paradigm to capture the stare-in-the-crowd effect. We compared typically-developing (TD) young adults and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on multiple measures of psychophysiology, including eye tracking and heart rate monitoring. Four conditions of visual stimuli were presented: averted gaze, mutual gaze, catching another staring, and getting caught staring. Eye tracking outcomes and arousal (pupil size and heart rate variability) were compared by diagnosis (TD or ASD) and condition (averted, mutual, catching another staring, getting caught staring) using repeated measure ANOVA. Significant interaction of diagnosis and condition was found for IA dwell time, IA fixation count, and IA second fixation duration. Hierarchical regression was used to assess how dimensional behavioral measures predicted eye tracking outcomes and arousal; only two models with advanced theory of mind as a predictor were significant. Overall, we demonstrated that individuals with ASD do respond differently to various gaze conditions in similar patterns to TD individuals, but to a lesser extent. This offers potential targets to social interventions to capitalize on this present but underdeveloped response to gaze. Implications and future directions are discussed.



Number of Pages

83 p.