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Published May 2017 | Accepted Version + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Reduced specificity in emotion judgment in people with autism spectrum disorder


There is a conflicting literature on facial emotion processing in autism spectrum disorder (ASD): both typical and atypical performance have been reported, and inconsistencies in the literature may stem from different processes examined (emotion judgment, face perception, fixations) as well as differences in participant populations. Here we conducted a detailed investigation of the ability to discriminate graded emotions shown in morphs of fear-happy faces, in a well-characterized high-functioning sample of participants with ASD and matched controls. Signal detection approaches were used in the analyses, and concurrent high-resolution eye-tracking was collected. Although people with ASD had typical thresholds for categorical fear and confidence judgments, their psychometric specificity to detect emotions across the entire range of intensities was reduced. However, fixation patterns onto the stimuli were typical and could not account for the reduced specificity of emotion judgment. Together, our results argue for a subtle and specific deficit in emotion perception in ASD that, from a signal detection perspective, is best understood as a reduced specificity due to increased noise in central processing of the face stimuli.

Additional Information

© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. Received 21 November 2016, Revised 13 February 2017, Accepted 22 March 2017, Available online 24 March 2017. We thank Tim Armstrong and Sai Sun for help with running the experiment, and Lynn Paul for psychological assessments. This research was supported by grants and fellowships from Autism Science Foundation, the Simons Foundation, and an NIMH Conte Center. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Author contributions: S.W. and R.A. designed experiments and wrote the paper. S.W. performed research and analyzed data. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Attached Files

Accepted Version - nihms863906.pdf

Supplemental Material - mmc1.docx


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