Background: Previous research studies have assessed the relationship between attention to social information and peripheral (e.g., plasma and salivary) oxytocin (OT) levels in typically developing (TD) children and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A relationship between them was observed in TD children, but not in children with ASD. However, this relationship remains unexamined in other age groups. To clarify whether this lack of association is maintained throughout development in individuals with ASD, we aimed to assess the relationship between salivary OT levels and attention to social information in adolescents and adults with and without ASD. Methods: We recruited male adolescents and adults with ASD (n = 17) and TD participants (n = 24). Using the all-in-one eye-tracking system Gazefinder, we measured the percentage fixation time allocated to social information. We also measured the salivary OT levels and Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) of participants. Subsequently, we confirmed group differences and conducted a correlation analysis to investigate the relationships between these three measures. Results: Salivary OT levels did not show any significant difference between the ASD and TD groups and were negatively correlated with the AQ in the whole-group analysis, but not in within-group analysis. Individuals with ASD had significantly lower percentage fixation times than did TD individuals for eye regions in human faces with/without mouth motion, for upright biological motion, and for people regions in the people and geometry movies. The percentage of fixation for geometric shapes in the people and geometry movies was significantly higher in the ASD than in the TD group. In the TD group, salivary OT levels were positively correlated with percentage fixation times for upright biological motion and people and negatively correlated with inverted biological motion and geometry. However, no significant correlations were found in the ASD group. Conclusions: Our exploratory results suggest that salivary OT levels in adolescents and adults with ASD are less indicative of attention to social stimuli than they are in TD adolescents and adults. It is suggested that their association is slightly weaker in adolescents and adults with ASD and that this attenuated relationship appears to be maintained throughout development.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health