Finding a face in the crowd: Testing the anger superiority effect in Asperger Syndrome

Christopher Ashwin, S Wheelwright, S Baron-Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (SciVal)


Social threat captures attention and is processed rapidly and efficiently, with many lines of research showing involvement of the amygdala. Visual search paradigms looking at social threat have shown angry faces 'pop-out' in a crowd, compared to happy faces. Autism and Asperger Syndrome (AS) are neurodevelopmental conditions characterised by social deficits, abnormal face processing, and amygdala dysfunction. We tested adults with high-functioning autism (HFA) and AS using a facial visual search paradigm with schematic neutral and emotional faces. We found, contrary to predictions, that people with HFA/AS performed similarly to controls in many conditions. However, the effect was reduced in the HFA/AS group when using widely varying crowd sizes and when faces were inverted, suggesting a difference in face-processing style may be evident even with simple schematic faces. We conclude there are intact threat detection mechanisms in AS, under simple and predictable conditions, but that like other face-perception tasks, the visual search of threat faces task reveals atypical face-processing in HFA/AS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-95
Number of pages18
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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