Are all eyes the same? Investigation of spatial attention among autistic individuals using the gaze-cueing paradigm

Researcher: Maximillian (Max) Soares Miehstein, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Our next user success story is coming from the “tropical paradise” of the Hawaiian Islands. Max is a Ph.D. student interested in the attentional and perceptual mechanisms of autistic individuals. Under the tutelage of Dr. Scott Sinnett, he implemented one of the classic spatial attentional paradigms during his undergraduate years that catalyzed his graduate school education. He is excited with the continual usage of the Labvanced platform to extend his project is preparing to publish his research in the near future. Here is his story:

What is your field of study?

I am studying in the field of cognitive psychology, investigating attentional mechanisms of a specific clinical population. Most of my research involves examining the attentional mechanisms of autism identity development and how the traits of autism could mediate or modulate cognitive flexibility and behavioral performance. Measuring the autism traits and using the classic gaze cueing paradigm, I used Labvanced to create and run my research during this uncertain time of COVID crisis and remotely gather data which was unthinkable in the past.

What is the most exciting piece of work or research you have done?

The most memorable research I consider is my first project initiated and completed for my undergraduate honors thesis. I created a survey assessment from various reliable inventories, such as disability identity development, acceptance of homosexuality scale, and autism trait measurement, to study the identity development of the autistic population. This initial qualitative research further allowed me to extend the investigation using the quantitative measure, where the Labvanced mediated the platform to enable behavioral data collection without any programming experience.

How did you hear about and start using the Labvanced platform?

My current Ph.D. advisor recommended using this platform, and one of my colleagues already possessed some experience creating projects using this program. Fortunately, their recommendations allowed me to actualize my research and prepared me for graduate school entrance.

What did you like most about using Labvanced?

Simplicity. Even though it took some time to familiarize myself with the layout (as it is with other programming platforms), Labvanced featured a simple and intuitive design digestible for someone with no programming experience. Moreover, their simple online publication to acquire remote data was easy to grasp, circumventing many in-person requirements of traditional lab-based studies.

What did you investigate using Labvanced?

I investigate the spatial attentional difference between autistic and non-autistic individuals. Using the modified Posner’s gaze cueing task, I presented central schematic (drawn) faces or real faces with the eyes that gazed either to the right or left side of the screen. Subsequently, the target letter (e.g., “T” or “V”) was shown either on the gazed or opposite location, which required participants to make a keypress response depending on the target identity. The basic idea of this setup examined the social information processing of those with autistic traits, whether the target discrimination timing is negatively affected when the gaze cue was a natural face compared to the schematic figurine.

Has this study been published?

I have yet published this study, but it is at the preparation stage. I wish to extend the study with additional factors and verify the initial findings before the review process.

Do you think you will continually use the Labvanced platform?

Absolutely yes! I am excited to continue my Ph.D. projects using this platform and continually expand my knowledge to take advantage of many innovative features in this program.

What sort of advice could you offer to the newest user(s) of Labvanced?

I would recommend playing around with all the features in the Labvanced, watch the tutorials, and follow along to create a few experiments. Otherwise, creating the main experiment could lead to many errors and obstacles that could’ve been avoided with the requisite knowledge that Labvanced.com numerously provides. Fortunately, I received hands-on guidance from an experienced colleague on the platform. Otherwise, I would take advantage of documentations, videos, and tools that the platform provides.