Diminished sensitivity and specificity at recognising facial emotional expressions of varying intensity underlie emotion-specific recognition deficits in autism spectrum disorders

Tanja Wingenbach, Christopher Ashwin, Mark Brosnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)
222 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background

A plethora of research on facial emotion recognition in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) exists and reported deficits in ASD compared to controls, particularly for negative basic emotions. However, these studies have largely used static high intensity stimuli. The current study investigated facial emotion recognition across three levels of expression intensity from videos, looking at accuracy rates to investigate impairments in facial emotion recognition and error patterns (’confusions’) to explore potential underlying factors.

Method

Twelve individuals with ASD (9 M/3F; M(age) = 17.3) and 12 matched controls (9 M/3F; M(age) = 16.9) completed a facial emotion recognition task including 9 emotion categories (anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, happiness, contempt, embarrassment, pride) and neutral, each expressed by 12 encoders at low, intermediate, and high intensity.

Results

A facial emotion recognition deficit was found overall for the ASD group compared to controls, as well as deficits in recognising individual negative emotions at varying expression intensities. Compared to controls, the ASD group showed significantly more, albeit typical, confusions between emotion categories (at high intensity), and significantly more confusions of emotions as ‘neutral’ (at low intensity).

Conclusions

The facial emotion recognition deficits identified in ASD, particularly for negative emotions, are in line with previous studies using other types of stimuli. Error analysis showed that individuals with ASD had difficulties detecting emotional information in the face (sensitivity) at low intensity, and correctly identifying emotional information (specificity) at high intensity. These results suggest different underlying mechanisms for the facial emotion recognition deficits at low vs high expression intensity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-61
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Volume34
Early online date16 Nov 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017

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