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The Importance Of Eye Contact In Healthy Humans

2500 words - 10 pages

The term given to define two people gazing at each other’s eyes is eye contact (Harper, Wiens & Matarazzo, 1978). Eye contact is considered an effective form of nonverbal communication, which is utilised to convey expression and information with others. For instance, during social interactions, it is possible to gage the other person’s reaction through eye contact. It is therefore a useful social tool, which can be deliberately utilised in order to perform the following actions; provide non-verbal information, regulate interaction, express intimacy, exercise social control, and facilitate task goals with another individual (Petterson, 1982, 1983). It is possible to split the category of eye contact into two sub categories; eye contact duration and patterns of eye contact (Kleinke, 1986). People with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), often engage in significantly less eye contact than neuro-typical people (Dalton, Nacewicz, Johnstone, Schaefer, Gernsbacher & Goldsmith, 2005), therefore it may be possible to conclude that people with ASD are missing crucial social information.
Autism was first identified by Kramer in the early 1940’s and was considered to consist of atypical behaviours and problems with communication. Later in the 1940’s Asperger identified a similar but less severe disorder that he named Asperger’s Syndrome. The overlap between these two disorders has become more prevalent in recent years and has resulted in them recently being given a collective term of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder which consists of impairments in an individual’s communication, social and/or behavioural abilities (Wing, 1981). These three different areas of impairments are collectively known as the triad of impairments. As oppose to Kanner’s definition of Autism which only accounted for individuals with severe impairment’s to their communication, social and behavioural abilities, ASD accounts for individual’s with mild, as well as severe, symptoms across the triad of impairments. Therefore it is not necessary for an individual to suffer from every aspect of the triad of impairments for them to have a diagnosis of ASD. ASD is more likely to occur in boys than in girls, affecting four times more boys.
One of the first noticeable signs of ASD in infants is if they are not engaging in eye contact (Werner, Dawson, Osterling & Dinno, 2000), it is therefore one of the key diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association 2000). Clinical interest into the causes and consequences of reduced eye contact has significantly increased in the last 30 years. There are many different theories as to why individuals with ASD have atypical eye contact, the four main theories are; the cognitive load hypothesis, the communicative intention detector model, the two variants of the affective arousal model, and the fast-track modulator model.
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