Why do people with autism see faces differently?

November 26, 2014, University of Montreal
autism
Quinn, an autistic boy, and the line of toys he made before falling asleep. Repeatedly stacking or lining up objects is a behavior commonly associated with autism. Credit: Wikipedia.

The way people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gather information - not the judgement process itself - might explain why they gain different perceptions from peoples' faces, according to a new study from Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies and the University of Montreal. "The evaluation of an individual's face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual," said Baudouin Forgeot d'Arc, lead author of the study. "By studying these judgments, we wanted to better understand how people with ASD use facial features as cues. Do they need more cues to be able to make the same judgment?"

The study was conducted in collaboration with a team from the Hôpital Robert-Debré in Paris, who recruited 71 individuals, including a control group (n=38) and an ASD group (n=33), without intellectual disabilities. The group was divided into aged-matched subgroups: children (mean age 10 years) and adults (mean age 33 years) The researchers presented 36 pairs of photographic and synthetic images to the , and evaluated their social judgment by asking them to indicate which emotionally neutral faces appeared "kind" to them.

When of neutral faces were presented, the judgment of ASD participants was mixed compared to participants in the - the choices of the ASD participants were not predictable from one subject to another. However, the researchers found no difference between the groups when participants were presented with synthetic images, which were nevertheless created based on the characteristics of the photographic images previously shown. Moreover, when the synthetic image pairs contained less useful judgment clues (less pronounced ), the results for the two groups were influenced in the same way by this difficulty.

The identical results of the two groups when they viewed synthetic images suggest that it is not the judgment process itself that is different: judging whether a person seems "kinder" than another can be accomplished similarly in participants with or without ASD. However, the differences observed when they viewed photographic images suggest that the way they gather information about people's faces is critical.

"We now want to understand how the gathering of cues underpinning these judgments is different between people with or without ASD depending on whether they are viewing synthetic or photographic images. Ultimately, a better understanding of how people with ASD perceive and evaluate the social environment will allow us to better interact with them," said Forgeot d'Arc.

Explore further: Facial motion a clue to difficulties in social interaction among autistic adults

Related Stories

Facial motion a clue to difficulties in social interaction among autistic adults

November 13, 2014
People on the autistic spectrum may struggle to recognise social cues, unfamiliar people or even someone's gender because of an inability to interpret changing facial expressions, new research has found.

Speech disrupts facial attention in six-month-olds who later develop autism

February 4, 2014
From birth, infants naturally show a preference for human contact and interaction, including faces and voices. These basic predispositions to social stimuli are altered in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders ...

Siblings of children with autism can show signs at 18 months

October 16, 2014
About 20% of younger siblings of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will develop the condition by age 3. A new study by Yale School of Medicine researchers has found that 57% of these younger siblings who later ...

Brainwave test could improve autism diagnosis and classification

September 22, 2014
A new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University suggests that measuring how fast the brain responds to sights and sounds could help in objectively classifying people on the autism spectrum ...

Eye-tracking reveals variability in successful social strategies for children with autism

February 27, 2012
In a study published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Katherine Rice and colleagues, from the Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory ...

Patients with autism spectrum disorder are not sensitive to 'being imitated'

August 5, 2014
A Japanese research group led by Prof Norihiro Sadato, a professor of the National Institute for Physiological Sciences (NIPS), National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS), has found that people with autism spectrum disorders ...

Recommended for you

When your brain won't hang up: Sustained connections associated with symptoms of autism

November 16, 2018
For decades, scientists have examined how regions of the brain communicate to understand autism. Researchers at University of Utah Health believe the symptoms of autism may result from sustained connections between regions ...

Music improves social communication in autistic children

November 5, 2018
Engaging in musical activities such as singing and playing instruments in one-on-one therapy can improve autistic children's social communication skills, improve their family's quality of life, as well as increase brain connectivity ...

Unraveling a genetic network linked to autism

November 2, 2018
Donnelly Centre researchers have uncovered a genetic network linked to autism. The findings, described in the journal Molecular Cell, will facilitate developing new therapies for this common neurological disorder.

Study links gene mutation to neurodevelopmental disorders

November 2, 2018
A new model created by UCLA scientists reveals how the alteration of a specific gene increases the risk for neurodevelopmental problems in mice. When the researchers mutated the gene, it produced symptoms at specific ages ...

Common medications taken during pregnancy are not associated with risk for autism

October 31, 2018
Babies exposed in the womb to the majority of medications that target neurotransmitter systems, including typical targets of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs, are not any more likely to develop autism than non-exposed ...

Brainwave activity reveals potential biomarker for autism in children

October 29, 2018
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can impair communication ability, socialization, and verbal and motor skills. It generally starts in early childhood and is diagnosed through behavior observation. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.