Thèse de doctorat
Résumé : This thesis asks why social interaction unfolding in autistic adults and children is often characterised as atypical. To answer this question, I investigated two main hypotheses: the Social Motivation Theory and the Social Anxiety Hypothesis. The five studies comprised in this dissertation are based on three different paradigms: [1] social attention in 40 autistic (20 women; 20 men) and 40 neurotypical adults (matched on age, gender and IQ) in front of speaking videos of actors displaying a direct or averted gaze; [2] social attention and [3] disfluency production in the same sample during a live face-to-face cognitive task with an experimenter displaying a direct or averted gaze; [4] social attention and [5] interactional behaviours in 18 autistic children matched on gender (15 boys; 3 girls) and mental (18) or chronological (18) age to neurotypicals during a real-life recreational task with a familiar or unfamiliar adult experimenter. The investigation of these social aspects has been based on eye- tracking measures, electrodermal activity and fine-grained disfluency and interactional behaviours coding.In Study [1], I found an absence of preference for direct versus averted gaze in the autistic group, probably because of difficulties in distinguishing eye gaze direction. In Study [2], I found no difference in social attention between autistic and neurotypical adults, but an increased experienced arousal in neurotypicals whose direct gaze was not reciprocated. We could wonder whether the neurotypicals' discomfort could provoke a more insistent looking for eye contact behaviour, potentially leading to autistics' uneasiness. In Study [3], I found less listener- and more speaker-oriented disfluencies in the autistic speech, potentially contributing to neurotypicals' difficulties in understanding it. In Study [4], I found similar social attention, experienced stress and familiarity effect in autistic and neurotypical children. This suggests that real-life results could contrast with lab observations in terms notably of eye gaze behaviours. The impression of atypicality in social interactions with autistics could be due to an autism-specific profile, described in Study [5] as more disinhibited and spontaneous. In Study [5], I also reported differences in interactional behaviours in all children depending on whether they were familiar to their partner and on the topics they discussed. These results are discussed in the light of reciprocity issues, social motivation and social anxiety.