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Published December 2012 | Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Perception of emotions from facial expressions in high-functioning adults with autism


Impairment in social communication is one of the diagnostic hallmarks of autism spectrum disorders, and a large body of research has documented aspects of impaired social cognition in autism, both at the level of the processes and the neural structures involved. Yet one of the most common social communicative abilities in everyday life, the ability to judge somebody's emotion from their facial expression, has yielded conflicting findings. To investigate this issue, we used a sensitive task that has been used to assess facial emotion perception in a number of neurological and psychiatric populations. Fifteen high-functioning adults with autism and 19 control participants rated the emotional intensity of 36 faces displaying basic emotions. Every face was rated 6 times—once for each emotion category. The autism group gave ratings that were significantly less sensitive to a given emotion, and less reliable across repeated testing, resulting in overall decreased specificity in emotion perception. We thus demonstrate a subtle but specific pattern of impairments in facial emotion perception in people with autism.

Additional Information

© 2012 Elsevier Ltd. Received 19 December 2011; Received in revised form 31 August 2012; Accepted 19 September 2012; Available online 27 September 2012. This research was supported by a grant from the Simons Foundation (SFARI-07-01 to R.A.) and the National Institute of Mental Health (K99 MH094409 to D.P.K.; R01 MH080721 to R.A.). We are grateful to Catherine Holcomb and Brian Cheng for administrative support and help with data collection, and Dirk Neumann and Keise Izuma for helpful discussions. We also thank the participants and their families for taking part in this research. A version of this work was present at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego (May, 2011).

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August 19, 2023
October 23, 2023