Research into facial expression recognition could change our understanding of autism

Summary: The social difficulties associated with autism may reflect differences seen only in high stress scenarios and certain social interactions. The findings challenge the belief that people with autism spectrum disorder cannot adequately read emotional facial expressions.

source: Flinders University

There is a common perception that individuals with autism are poor at recognizing the feelings of others and have little insight into how effective it can be to do so.

According to new Australian research, adults with autism are slightly less accurate at reading people’s facial emotions than their non-autistic peers.

Recent research published in two papers in the leading international journal, Autism Researchexplains that we may need to review widely accepted notions that adults diagnosed with autism have difficulties when it comes to recognizing social emotions and have little insight into their processing of other people’s emotions.

63 people diagnosed with autism and 67 adults without autism (with IQs ranging from 85 to 143) took part in the Flinders University study, in which participants took part in 3-5 hour sessions to compare the recognition of 12 human facial expressions such as anger and sadness .

Dr. Marie Georgopoulos collected a wide range of data during her PhD, with subsequent re-analysis by the research team to provide the basis for a series of research articles.

The results may mean that social difficulties associated with autism may in fact reflect differences seen only in certain social interactions or high stress scenarios, challenging the view that adults with autism cannot adequately read facial expressions of emotions.

By posting a wide range of emotions, presented in a variety of different ways, this study suggests that individuals with autism are, on average, slightly less accurate, says study co-author and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology Matthew Flinders, Neil Brewer. But at the same time somewhat slower when categorizing the feelings of others.

“These findings challenge the notion that adults with autism are more likely to be fatigued by increasingly complex and dynamic emotional stimuli and to experience difficulties in recognizing certain emotions.”

According to new Australian research, adults with autism are slightly less accurate at reading people’s facial emotions than their non-autistic peers. The image is in the public domain

There was significant overlap in performance between the two groups, with only a very small subset of autistic individuals functioning at lower levels than their non-autistic counterparts.

Differences between groups were consistent regardless of how emotions are presented, the nature of the response required, or which particular emotions are viewed.

The research also showed that while there was significant variation in terms of how individuals perceived their interpretation of other people’s feelings, there was no evidence of any differences between autistic and non-autistic samples.

“The complex methodologies used in these studies not only help improve our understanding of emotion processing in autism but also provide further elucidation of the hitherto unrecognized abilities of individuals with autism.”

“It is likely that further developments will require us to take advantage of behaviors associated with emotion recognition and reactions to the emotions of others in real-life interactions or perhaps in virtual reality settings.”

About this research on autism news

author: Jaz Dedovic
source: Flinders University
Contact: Jaz Dedovic – Flinders University
picture: The image is in the public domain

original search: open access.
Confronting the feelings of others: No evidence of autistic deficiencies in metacognitive awareness of emotion recognition by Marie Gorgopoulos et al. Autism Research

see also

This shows two little girls playing


Confronting others’ feelings: No evidence of autism-related deficiencies in metacognitive awareness of emotion recognition

Difficulties with emotional recognition contribute to social communication problems for individuals with autism, and awareness of these difficulties may be critical to identifying and pursuing strategies to mitigate their negative effects.

We examined metacognitive awareness of facial emotion recognition responses in autism (n = 63) and not autistic (n = 67) adults across (a) static, dynamic, and social facial emotion stimuli, (b) free and forced report response formats, and (c) four different combinations of the six ‘basic’ and six ‘complex’ emotions.

Individual relationships between recognition accuracy and post-recognition confidence provided no indication that autistic individuals were poorer at correct discrimination of incorrect recognition responses than non-autistic individuals, although both groups showed significant interindividual variability.

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

However, the calibration curves for both groups were characterized by overconfidence at the higher confidence levels (i.e., overall accuracy less than the mean confidence level), with the nonuniform group contributing more decisions with 90%–100% confidence.

Comparisons between slow and fast responders provided no evidence of a ‘hard to easy’ effect—a tendency to show overconfidence during difficult tasks and underconfidence during easy tasks—suggesting that the response of individuals with autism may reflect a strategic difference rather than the speed of processing determined.

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