Using VR and Eye-tracking in Autism Research

The VR set up for Tom's work

Our newest member of the Cineon team, TOM ARTHUR, is a PhD research student at the University of Exeter. This blog focuses on a new and exciting application of VR eye-tracking in his research, which has increased scientific understanding about Autism Spectrum Disorder. This work is being conducted by the VITAL research group in Exeter, in collaboration with the Centre of Applied Autism Research.

Sensory disturbances, clumsiness, and impaired motor coordination represent common features of autism, however, little is known about what causes these difficulties.

To better understand the topic, Tom has integrated methods from clinical psychology, computational neuroscience, virtual-reality, and elite sport science research.

This has led to a new VR racquetball test, where motor kinematics and gaze fixation behaviours are measured under different environmental conditions.

Tom’s lead PhD supervisor, Dr Sam Vine (director at Cineon), said: “Tom is using VR so that he can experimentally control the sensory information that his participants receive. VR also enables him to measure how this information is processed over time, and to perform studies that would be difficult in the real-world.”

Their recent results have challenged a number of high-profile theories of autism, and suggest that autistic people may process the world as if it is highly uncertain or volatile.

The team hope that this final part of the project will form the basis of future training and education programmes.

“Now that we know what processes might be involved, we are looking to develop VR-based training tools which can help autistic people” explains Tom.

“By working alongside specialists at Cineon, I am excited to translate this scientific knowledge into meaningful practical applications”.

Tom’s research forms part of a 4-year project funded by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership, in affiliation with the Economic and Social Research Council.

For more information about the work, visit the VITAL website:  http://sshs.exeter.ac.uk/ research/humanmovement/vital/.