How the ASD Brain Recognizes Emotion: The Differences in Information Gathering


Previously, studies have shown that individuals on the autism spectrum interpret facial recognition information differently from that of a typically developed brain. Research from the University of Montreal explained that the information interpretation process is different for autistic individuals, rather than the judgment process.

The study conducted at the Hopital Riviere-des-Prairies in Montreal compared the way individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gather information about facial expression. Previously, studies have focused on how ASD individuals processed and judged emotion in facial expression, rather than the gathering process.

Researches expressed that the differences may be in the way autistic individuals gather information and furthermore, might explain why perceptions of peoples’ faces may differ.

The lead author of the study, Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc staid,

“The evaluation of an individual’s face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual. 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 consisted of 71 participants. The control group was comprised of 38 people and the ASD group was comprised of 33 people without intellectual disabilities. Each group was divided into aged-matched subgroups, such as children and adults. The researchers presented 36 pairs of photogenic and synthetic images to all participants and evaluated their social judgment. In order to evaluate this, researchers asked participants to indicate which emotionally neutral faces appeared “kind” to them.

The main difference found between the two groups was when photographic images of neutral faces were presented, ASD participants gave mixed judgment opposed to the control group. There were no predictable patterns in judgment from the ASD participant group. Each individual judgment varied from one participant to the other.

Researchers also found no difference between the groups when participants were presented with a synthetic image. The synthetic images were created based on the characteristics of the photographic images previously shown to the participants. When the synthetic image pairs contained less useful judgment clues, meaning less pronounced facial features, the results of each group were influenced in the same way by this complication.

The major suggestion from this research is this: because the identical results of the two groups viewing the synthetic images are identical, it is not the judgment process itself that is different for both groups, the differences instead were observed when they viewed photographic images suggesting that the information gathering process about peoples’ faces holds the critical difference.

“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.

This article was adapted from this publication here: here.

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