Emotion recognition in autism spectrum disorder across age groups: A cross-sectional investigation of various visual and auditory communicative domains

Florence Y N Leung, Vesna Stojanovik, Martina Micai, Cunmei Jiang, Fang Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)


Previous research on emotion processing in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has predominantly focused on human faces and speech prosody, with little attention paid to other domains such as nonhuman faces and music. In addition, emotion processing in different domains was often examined in separate studies, making it challenging to evaluate whether emotion recognition difficulties in ASD generalize across domains and age cohorts. The present study investigated: (i) the recognition of basic emotions (angry, scared, happy, and sad) across four domains (human faces, face-like objects, speech prosody, and song) in 38 autistic and 38 neurotypical (NT) children, adolescents, and adults in a forced-choice labeling task, and (ii) the impact of pitch and visual processing profiles on this ability. Results showed similar recognition accuracy between the ASD and NT groups across age groups for all domains and emotion types, although processing speed was slower in the ASD compared to the NT group. Age-related differences were seen in both groups, which varied by emotion, domain, and performance index. Visual processing style was associated with facial emotion recognition speed and pitch perception ability with auditory emotion recognition in the NT group but not in the ASD group. These findings suggest that autistic individuals may employ different emotion processing strategies compared to NT individuals, and that emotion recognition difficulties as manifested by slower response times may result from a generalized, rather than a domain-specific underlying mechanism that governs emotion recognition processes across domains in ASD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-869
Number of pages19
JournalAutism Research
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, ERC‐StG‐2015, CAASD, 678733, to F.L. and C.J. We are grateful to all participants who took the time to participate in this research. We also thank Alex Bacon, Caitlin Dawson, and Queenie Cheng for assistance with data collection, and Roop Khangoora for help with data preprocessing.

The data that support the findings of this study are avail-able from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


  • autism
  • cognitive
  • emotion recognition
  • faces
  • pitch
  • speech prosody
  • song


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