A fine-grained analysis of facial expression processing in high-functioning adults with autism

Date of Original Version

Spring 2007



Abstract or Description

It is unclear whether individuals with autism are impaired at recognizing basic facial expressions, and whether, if any impairment exists, it applies to expression processing in general, or to certain expressions, in particular. To evaluate these alternatives, we adopted a fine-grained analysis of facial expression processing in autism. Specifically, we used the ‘facial expression megamix’ paradigm [Young, A. W., Rowland, D., Calder, A. J, Etcoff, N. L., Seth, A., & Perrett, D. I. (1997). Facial expression megamix: Tests of dimensional and category accounts of emotion recognition Cognition and Emotion, 14, 39–60] in which adults with autism and a typically developing comparison group performed a six alternative forced-choice response to morphs of all possible combinations of the six basic expressions identified by Ekman [Ekman, P. (1972). Universals and cultural differences in facial expressions of emotion. In J. K. Cole (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation: vol. 1971, (pp. 207–283). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press] (happiness, sadness, disgust, anger, fear and surprise). Clear differences were evident between the two groups, most obviously in the recognition of fear, but also in the recognition of disgust and happiness. A second experiment demonstrated that individuals with autism are able to discriminate between different emotional images and suggests that low-level perceptual difficulties do not underlie the difficulties with emotion recognition.


Published In

Neuropsychologia, 45, 4, 685-695.