September 2015
Volume 15, Issue 12
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2015
Emotion perception or social cognitive complexity: What drives face processing deficits in autism spectrum disorder?
Author Affiliations
  • M.D. Rutherford
    Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University
  • Jennifer Walsh
    Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University
  • Sarah Creighton
    Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University
Journal of Vision September 2015, Vol.15, 1223. doi:
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      M.D. Rutherford, Jennifer Walsh, Sarah Creighton; Emotion perception or social cognitive complexity: What drives face processing deficits in autism spectrum disorder?. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1223. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Faces convey information about sex, identity, age, ethnic group, and internal emotional state, and typical individuals are expert at encoding and interpreting facial information. Individuals with ASD have difficulties with social perception and cognition, and there has been a great deal of scientific focus on the ability of those individuals with ASD’s to processing facial information. Still, there is not a clear consensus as to what the core deficits in face processing are characteristic of ASD. The current study examined whether the anomalies in face processing seen in adults with ASD are better explained as a deficit in processing emotions, or a deficit in processing the complexity of social stimuli. Participants completed a battery of four face processing tasks: identity discrimination, basic expression perception, complex emotion expression, and trustworthiness perception. The tasks either did or did not involve processing facial expressions, and also varied in the level of social cognitive complexity. If the deficits in face processing in ASD are driven by a core deficit in processing emotional expression information, participants with ASD would perform worse on the basic and complex expression perception tasks. In contrast, if their deficit is related to processing socially complex facial information, they would show poorer performance on the complex expression and trustworthiness perception tasks. Results revealed that ASD participants showed worse performance on basic expression recognition task (t(44) = 3.06, p = .004) and the complex expression recognition task t(44) = 4.26, p < .001 compared to typical participants. In contrast, there were no significant group differences in performance on the identification task (t(44) = 1.33, p = .19) or the trustworthy perception task t(44) = .93, p = .36. These results support an emotion processing rather than a social complexity explanation for face processing deficits in ASD.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015


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