Autism & Psychosis: Social Attention

What is this research about?

People with autism and people with psychotic complaints both have frequent difficulties with social interactions. It is unclear why this occurs exactly, but individual differences in attention during social situations (i.e. “social attention”) possibly plays an important role. In order to improve our understanding, we set up a study to investigate social attention in young people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and people with a first psychotic episode, in collaboration with the Early Psychosis clinic (Amsterdam UMC) and Dr. Sophie van Rijn (Leiden University). The main research question is whether social attention differs in young people with ASD compared to those with psychosis, and young people without autism or psychosis.

Research goal

The aim of the study is to find out what young people autism and psychosis notice in other people when those people become emotional or are talking to each other. For example, do they attend to faces and voices to determine if someone is angry or to determine if someone is telling the truth? Young people with autism and psychosis often indicate they find these social cues difficult, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to properly understand other people. By investigating this, we hope to learn to understand how such problems may arise. 

Participant requirements

  • Data collection for the current project has ended. Young people between 16-30 years who are interested in participating in future projects can register on this site.

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Useful information for participating

Social cognition is an umbrella term that is broadly defined as ‘all mental processes underlying social interactions’. Well-known examples are recognising faces and emotions, or taking someone else’s perspective (often referred to as ‘mentalising’ or  ’theory of mind’). Yet, (double) empathy, social motivation and joint attention are also examples of cognitive processes that are crucial for successful navigation in a social environment.

In psychology, eye tracking is the process of measuring where one is looking (gazing) in the visual field. An eye tracker is a device for measuring, for example, eye position, eye movement, and pupil dilation. There are different methods available, but the use of optical tracking, in which (infrared) light is reflected from the eye and sensed by a video camera or optical sensor, is becoming increasingly popular. Eye tracking is a non-invasive and relatively inexpensive assessment method.

In the Netherlands and the rest of Europe there are many rules and regulations to guarantee the privacy of children, adults and parents who take part in research. This means that all data that we collect will be handled strictly confidential and processed anonymously. This is accomplished by giving each participant a so called participant number. The research data will be coupled to this participant number and uncoupled from any personal data, both during and after participation. In this way, it is not possible to track down which research data belong to which participants.

The results of our research will be published in international (and sometimes national) scientific papers.

When you fill in a (contact) form on the website, or send us an e-mail, the data you have sent us will be stored as long as is necessary to properly answer or process. The duration depends on the type of form or the content of your e-mail.

If you decide to participate in our research your information will be transferred to our UvA environment as discussed previously. You will only participate when you have provided us your written informed consent (see “permission”). This also implies that Dutch law on the duration of storage of scientific data will go into effect. The storage duration depends partly on the type of research you are participating in. Upon participation you will be send project specific information (including information about data retention) and will be asked to consent to the processing of your personal data within the project.

For the privacy statement related to this specific website we refer to our privacy policy page.

For every research project you will first receive additional information on the research you might participate in. It is important to read this information thoroughly. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

When you have fully understood the content and still wish to participate, we will ask you to sign a so called informed consent. By signing this, you indicate that you have been properly informed about the content of the research, that you know your data will be processed anonymously, and that you know you can opt out of participation at any time. Signing this form lets us know that you are willing to voluntarily participate in our research.


If  not you, but your child  is participating in research, it is important that your child signs the informed consent too when they are 16 years of age or above. This means that both you and your child will have to consent to participation in our research. For children less than 12 years of age, you, as a parent or guardian, can indicate if they are allowed to participate or not.


During research all participants that partake in that research are insured via the UvA (University of Amsterdam). If you have any questions about your rights as a participant or about the insurance, you can contact us. Usually, an additional insurance is not needed for the type of research that our team does. If additional insurance is needed, this will always be indicated clearly in the information letter. Whether additional insurance is needed is judged by an ethics review board (ERB).


Upon completion of the entire research project, we will let you know what we have discovered by our research. This short report on our findings will often be sent to you quite some time after your participation. This is because it takes a long time to collect all data and find out exactly what these data tell us. We will also (partially) reimburse your travel and parking costs. For some of our research projects you will receive an additional monetary compensation. If this is the case, this will be indicated in the information letter.


Every child that participates in our research will receive a small gift as a thank you for their participation. In some of our research projects they can also win additional surprise gifts.


Upon completion of the entire research project, we will let you know what we discovered by our research. This short report on our findings will often be sent to you quite some time after your (child’s) participation. This is because it takes a long time to collect all data and find out exactly what these data tell us. We will also (partially) reimburse your travel and parking costs.

Related publications

Autistic traits in psychotic disorders: prevalence, familial risk, and impact on social functioning Ziermans, T.B., Schirmbeck, F., Oosterwijk, F., Geurts, H.M., de Haan, L., Genetic Risk and Outcome of Psychosis (GROUP) Investigators, Psychological Medicine, 10, DOI: 10.1017/S0033291720000458
The attenuated psychosis syndrome and facial affect processing in adolescents with and without autism. Maat, A., Therman, S., Swaab, H., & Ziermans, T. , Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11, 759.doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00759