22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22qDS) has been associated with varying levels of social impairments, and with atypical visual scanning of faces. The present study explored whether self-reported sensitivity to eye contact might be related to these phenomena.
Individuals with confirmed 22qDS were interviewed about their experience and possible discomfort with eye contact. In cases where individuals expresesed discomfort, they were subsequently asked about coping mechanisms used to deal with this discomfort. In addition to self-reported eye contact discomfort, gaze to emotional faces was examined using eye tracking.
In the subgroup of individuals who reported discomfort during eye contact, eye tracking results revealed a lower amount of gaze in the eyes of neutral faces, as well as the absence of the typical left visual field (LVF) bias, indicative of alterations in hemispheric lateralization. This subgroup also scored lower on a measure of everyday functioning.
Our results show that, by simply asking individuals with this social and communicative disorder about eye gaze discomfort, we may better understand the specific challenges that they experience. Moreover, information gained from such first-person reports together with eye-tracking measures further informs about the integrity of their face processing system, as well as about the nature and degree of impairment in this population.