Correlation Between Gaze Behaviors and Social Communication Skills of Young Autistic Children: A Meta-Analysis of Eye-Tracking Studies

Christy D. Yoon, Yan Xia, Adriana Kaori Terol, Hedda Meadan, James D. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This meta-analysis examined correlations between eye-tracking measures of gaze behaviors manifested during dynamic salient social stimuli and behavioral assessment measures of social communication skills of young autistic children. We employed a multilevel model with random effects to perform three separate meta-analyses for correlation between social communication skills and (a) all gaze behaviors, (b) gaze duration, and (c) gaze transition. Subsequently, we performed meta-regression to assess the role of four moderators, including age, continuum of naturalness of stimuli, gaze metric, and area of interest, on correlation effect sizes that were heterogeneous at the population level. A total of 111 correlation coefficients from 17 studies for 1132 young autistic children or children with high-likelihood for autism (Mage range = 6–95 months) were included in this meta-analysis. The correlation effect sizes for all three meta-analyses were significant, supporting the relation between improved gaze behaviors and better social communication skills. In addition, age, gaze metric, and area of interest were significant moderators. This suggests the importance of identifying meaningful gaze behaviors related to social communication skills and the increasingly influential role of gaze behaviors in shaping social communication skills as young autistic children progress through the early childhood stage. The continuum of naturalness of stimuli, however, was revealed to trend towards having a significant moderating effect. Lastly, it is important to note the evidence of potential publication bias. Our findings are discussed in the context of early identification and intervention and unraveling the complex nature of autism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Autism
  • Early childhood
  • Gaze behaviors
  • Meta-analysis
  • Social communication skills

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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