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Published July 22, 2008 | Supplemental Material + Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Distinct Face-Processing Strategies in Parents of Autistic Children


In his original description of autism, Kanner [1] noted that the parents of autistic children often exhibited unusual social behavior themselves, consistent with what we now know about the high heritability of autism [2]. We investigated this so-called Broad Autism Phenotype in the parents of children with autism, who themselves did not receive a diagnosis of any psychiatric illness. Building on recent quantifications of social cognition in autism [3], we investigated face processing by using the "bubbles" method [4] to measure how viewers make use of information from specific facial features in order to judge emotions. Parents of autistic children who were assessed as socially aloof (N = 15), a key component of the phenotype [5], showed a remarkable reduction in processing the eye region in faces, together with enhanced processing of the mouth, compared to a control group of parents of neurotypical children (N = 20), as well as to nonaloof parents of autistic children (N = 27, whose pattern of face processing was intermediate). The pattern of face processing seen in the Broad Autism Phenotype showed striking similarities to that previously reported to occur in autism [3] and for the first time provides a window into the endophenotype that may result from a subset of the genes that contribute to social cognition.

Additional Information

© 2008 Elsevier Ltd. Received 10 March 2008, Revised 20 June 2008, Accepted 20 June 2008, Available online 17 July 2008. Published online: July 17, 2008. The authors thank the families who participated in our study. The work was supported in part by grants from NIMH to J.P. (grants U54 MH66418 and R01MH077843), and from the Simons Foundation to R.A.

Attached Files

Accepted Version - nihms-60423.pdf

Supplemental Material - mmc1.pdf


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