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Scott Reed, Paul Dassonville; Configural and Feature-based Processing of Human Faces and Their Relation to Autistic Tendencies. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):583. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/10.7.583.
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The developmental disorder of autism has been associated with impairments in the ability to process the spatial configuration of facial features (Davies et al., 1994). Configural processing impairments have therefore been hypothesized to underlie the deficits in emotion recognition and abnormal face processing strategies that are observed in this population (Teunisse & de Gelder, 2001). However, in examining the visual scan patterns of faces in those with autism, results have been inconsistent across studies due to the variability of symptoms that are displayed across small autistic samples. An alternative method that avoids the confound of variant symptoms is to measure autistic tendencies in neuro-typical individuals and examine how visual scan patterns of faces may be modulated by these tendencies. In addition, by disrupting configural processing in neuro-typical individuals through the inversion of faces, we can examine how configural impairments may interact with autistic tendencies to produce deficits in emotion recognition. Subjects (n = 112) completed the Autism, Empathizing, and Systemizing Quotient (AQ, EQ, and SQ) questionnaires and judged the emotional expression in upright and inverted faces while visual scan patterns were recorded. The EQ was negatively associated with the fixation time of the mouth in upright faces, but this did not translate directly into changes in accuracy of emotion recognition. Surprisingly, the SQ was found to be positively associated with the magnitude of the inversion effect on accuracy, with high systemizing tendencies associated with greater impairments in processing facial affect when configural processing was further disrupted through inversion of the faces. Because individuals with autism exhibit even more extreme levels of systemizing than in our neuro-typical participants, the difficulties that clinical populations demonstrate in recognizing emotion in upright faces may be due to this relationship with systemizing tendencies.
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