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Isabel Gauthier, Cheryl Klaiman, Robert T. Schultz; Holistic processing of faces in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):682. doi: 10.1167/6.6.682.
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Although it has been suggested that individuals with Autism process faces less holistically than typically developing controls, there have been few direct investigations of this hypothesis. In a recent study (Teunisse & DeGelder 2003), this question was investigated using the composite paradigm. The results revealed that adolescents with Autism were less sensitive than controls to the misalignment of face parts and it was concluded their face processing was less holistic. However, in that study it was not possible to distinguish whether individuals with Autism processed both aligned and misaligned composites in a part-based fashion, or both in a holistic fashion. We compared 21 adolescents with Autism spectrum disorder to 15 controls matched on sex, age and IQ on a modified version of the composite paradigm that included not only trials on which irrelevant parts were different, but also trials in which irrelevant parts were the same. The results revealed that when facial features are in a normal configuration, individuals with Autism, just like controls, experience interference from facial features that they are told to ignore. However, while such interference is released for controls when facial features are misaligned, individuals with Autism show comparable interference from irrelevant parts regardless of alignment. The results are consistent with the idea that individuals with Autism lack expertise with faces. This is because a similar pattern of performance has been observed when control subjects process non-face objects for which they have no expertise, under unusual testing conditions that force them to encode a broken configuration.
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