Consortium on Individual Development


Roy Hessels receives PhD degree cum laude

On 7 July 2017 Roy Hessels successfully defended his PhD dissertation entitled ‘Toward early markers for ASD using eye tracking‘ at Utrecht University. He received his degree cum laude, a very rare distinction that is only given for outstanding results that have been obtained with a very high level of independence.

In his dissertation Roy explores two possible early markers of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using eye-tracking technology: visual search superiority and gaze behaviour during face perception. When Roy started his PhD it quickly became clear that the available eye-tracking methodology was unsuitable for infants and a new setup was necessary to examine social interaction. So methodological innovations were introduced to achieve high data quality and eye-tracking data analysis in infant research. Using this improved methodology he observed that infants searched for discrepant items in the absence of instructions, and saccadic search behaviour was similar to that observed in adults. Roy also developed a novel setup through which people could see and hear each other (akin to a Skype call), while their eye movement was recorded. Gaze behaviour to faces in this interaction setup revealed important corroborations of research using non-responsive stimuli (e.g. pictures) as well as intriguing links to ASD traits. 

Roy’s dissertation attracted the attention of Newspaper AD and tv-programme EditieNL. Hessels will stay in Utrecht as a postdoc, “To ensure a smooth continuation of the eye-tracking operation for the YOUth study”.

More information on the Utrecht University website (in Dutch).