Alexithymia, not autism, predicts poor recognition of emotional facial expressions

Richard Cook, Rebecca Brewer, Punit Shah, Geoffrey Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

248 Citations (SciVal)


Despite considerable research into whether face perception is impaired in autistic individuals, clear answers have proved elusive. In the present study, we sought to determine whether co-occurring alexithymia (characterized by difficulties interpreting emotional states) may be responsible for face-perception deficits previously attributed to autism. Two experiments were conducted using psychophysical procedures to determine the relative contributions of alexithymia and autism to identity and expression recognition. Experiment 1 showed that alexithymia correlates strongly with the precision of expression attributions, whereas autism severity was unrelated to expression-recognition ability. Experiment 2 confirmed that alexithymia is not associated with impaired ability to detect expression variation; instead, results suggested that alexithymia is associated with difficulties interpreting intact sensory descriptions. Neither alexithymia nor autism was associated with biased or imprecise identity attributions. These findings accord with the hypothesis that the emotional symptoms of autism are in fact due to co-occurring alexithymia and that existing diagnostic criteria may need to be revised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)723-32
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms
  • Autistic Disorder
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Recognition (Psychology)
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Perception
  • Journal Article


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