Research on facial emotion expression recognition could change our understanding of autism

Summary: Social difficulties associated with autism may reflect differences that only become apparent in high-pressure scenarios and certain social interactions. The findings challenge the belief that people with ASD cannot correctly read emotional facial expressions.

Source: flinders university

There is a common perception that people with autism cannot recognize the emotions of others and have little idea how effectively they do so.

But autistic adults are only slightly less accurate at reading people’s facial emotions compared to their non-autistic peers, new research from Australia has found.

Recent research published in two articles in the leading international journal, autism researchshows that we may need to revise widely accepted notions that adults diagnosed with autism have difficulty recognizing social emotions and have little information about their processing of the facial emotions of others.

63 people diagnosed with autism and 67 non-autistic adults (with IQs ranging from 85 to 143) took part in a Flinders University study, with participants taking part in 3-5 hour sessions comparing their recognition of 12 emotional expressions of the human face such as anger and sadness.

Dr Marie Georgopoulos collected a wide range of data during her PhD, with subsequent re-analyses by the research team providing the basis for a series of research papers.

The findings could mean that autism-related social difficulties may in fact reflect differences that only become apparent in certain social interactions or high-pressure scenarios, challenging the perspective that adults with autism cannot read words well. expressions of facial emotions.

Study co-author and Matthew Flinders Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Neil Brewer, says that by displaying a wide range of emotions, presented in different ways, this study suggests that people with autism are, on average, only slightly less accurate, but at the same time a bit slower when classifying other people’s emotions.

“These findings challenge the notion that adults with autism are more likely to be overwhelmed by increasingly dynamic or complex emotional stimuli and to experience difficulty recognizing specific emotions.”

This shows different expressions on emojis
But autistic adults are only slightly less accurate at reading people’s facial emotions compared to their non-autistic peers, new research from Australia has found. Image is in public domain

There was considerable overlap in performance between the two groups, with only a very small subgroup of autistic individuals performing lower than their non-autistic peers.

Differences between groups were consistent regardless of how the emotions were presented, the nature of the response required, or the particular emotion examined.

The research also showed that although there was considerable variability in terms of individuals’ insight into their interpretation of others’ emotions, there was no evidence of differences between autistic and non-autistic samples.

“The sophisticated methodologies used in these studies not only help refine our understanding of emotional processing in autism, but also provide new demonstrations of the heretofore unrecognized abilities of people with autism.”

“Further advances will likely require us to harness behaviors associated with emotion recognition and reactions to others’ emotions in real-world interactions or perhaps in virtual reality settings.”

About this autism research news

Author: Summer Dedovic
Source: flinders university
Contact: Yaz Dedovic – Flinders University
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Coping with the emotions of others: no evidence for autism-related deficits in metacognitive awareness of emotion recognition” by Marie Georgopoulos et al. autism research

See also



Dealing with the emotions of others: no evidence of autism-related deficits in metacognitive awareness of emotion recognition

Difficulties in emotion recognition are believed to contribute to social communication problems in people with autism and awareness of these difficulties can be essential for identifying and pursuing strategies that will mitigate their harmful effects.

We examined metacognitive awareness of facial emotion recognition responses in autistic people (NOT = 63) and not autistic (NOT = 67) adults across (a) static, dynamic, and social facial emotional stimuli, (b) free and forced rapport response formats, and (c) four different sets of the six “core” emotions and the six “complex” emotions.

Within-individual relationships between recognition accuracy and post-recognition confidence provided no indication that autistic people were less able to distinguish correct from incorrect recognition responses than non-autistic people, although both groups showed marked interindividual variability.

Although the autistic group was less accurate and slower in recognizing emotions, confidence-accuracy calibration analyzes provided no evidence of reduced sensitivity on their part to fluctuations in their emotion recognition performance. Across variations in stimulus type, response format, and emotion, increases in accuracy were associated with progressively higher confidence, with similar calibration curves for both groups.

The calibration curves for both groups were, however, characterized by overconfidence at the highest confidence levels (i.e. overall accuracy below the average confidence level), with the non-autistic group contributing more to the decisions with 90% to 100% confidence.

Comparisons between slow and fast responders provided no evidence for a “difficult-easy” effect – the tendency to be overconfident during difficult tasks and underconfident during easy tasks – suggesting that the slower recognition response of people with autism may reflect a strategic difference rather than a limiting processing speed.

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