Article abstract

Nature Neuroscience 8, 519 - 526 (2005)
Published online: 6 March 2005 | doi:10.1038/nn1421

Gaze fixation and the neural circuitry of face processing in autism

Kim M Dalton1,2, Brendon M Nacewicz2, Tom Johnstone2, Hillary S Schaefer2, Morton Ann Gernsbacher1,3, H H Goldsmith1,3, Andrew L Alexander1,2,4 & Richard J Davidson1,2,3,4

Diminished gaze fixation is one of the core features of autism and has been proposed to be associated with abnormalities in the neural circuitry of affect. We tested this hypothesis in two separate studies using eye tracking while measuring functional brain activity during facial discrimination tasks in individuals with autism and in typically developing individuals. Activation in the fusiform gyrus and amygdala was strongly and positively correlated with the time spent fixating the eyes in the autistic group in both studies, suggesting that diminished gaze fixation may account for the fusiform hypoactivation to faces commonly reported in autism. In addition, variation in eye fixation within autistic individuals was strongly and positively associated with amygdala activation across both studies, suggesting a heightened emotional response associated with gaze fixation in autism.

  1. Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53705-2280, USA.
  2. Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, University of Wisconsin, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53705-2280, USA.
  3. Psychology Department, University of Wisconsin, 1202 West Johnson Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1696, USA.
  4. Psychiatry Department, University of Wisconsin, 6001 Research Park Boulevard, Madison, Wisconsin 53719, USA.

Correspondence to: Kim M Dalton1,2 e-mail:

Correspondence to: Richard J Davidson1,2,3,4 e-mail:


These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.


Trust in the brain

Nature Neuroscience News and Views (01 Mar 2002)

Faces, fear and the amygdala

Nature News and Views (15 Dec 1994)