An investigation of basic facial expression recognition in autism spectrum disorders

  • Wallace S
  • Coleman M
  • Bailey A
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Abstract

This study was designed to test three competing hypotheses (impaired configural processing; impaired Theory of Mind; atypical amygdala functioning) to explain the basic facial expression recognition profile of adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In Experiment 1 the Ekman and Friesen (1976) series were presented upright and inverted. Individuals with ASD were significantly less accurate than controls at recognising upright facial expressions of fear, sadness and disgust and their pattern of errors suggested some configural processing difficulties. Impaired recognition of inverted facial expressions suggested some additional difficulties processing the facial features. Unexpectedly, the clinical group misidentified fear as anger. In Experiment 2 feature processing of facial expressions was investigated by presenting stimuli in a piecemeal fashion, starting with either just the eyes or the mouth. Individuals with ASD were impaired at recognising fear from the eyes and disgust from the mouth; they also confused fearful eyes as being angry. The findings are discussed in terms of the three competing hypotheses tested.

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Authors

  • S Wallace

  • M Coleman

  • A Bailey

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