Impaired recognition of facial emotions from low-spatial frequencies in Asperger syndrome

Jari Kätsyri, Satu Saalasti, Kaisa Tiippana, Lennart von Wendt, Mikko Sams
Neuropsychologia 2008, 46 (7): 1888-97
The theory of 'weak central coherence' [Happe, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1), 5-25] implies that persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have a perceptual bias for local but not for global stimulus features. The recognition of emotional facial expressions representing various different levels of detail has not been studied previously in ASDs. We analyzed the recognition of four basic emotional facial expressions (anger, disgust, fear and happiness) from low-spatial frequencies (overall global shapes without local features) in adults with an ASD. A group of 20 participants with Asperger syndrome (AS) was compared to a group of non-autistic age- and sex-matched controls. Emotion recognition was tested from static and dynamic facial expressions whose spatial frequency contents had been manipulated by low-pass filtering at two levels. The two groups recognized emotions similarly from non-filtered faces and from dynamic vs. static facial expressions. In contrast, the participants with AS were less accurate than controls in recognizing facial emotions from very low-spatial frequencies. The results suggest intact recognition of basic facial emotions and dynamic facial information, but impaired visual processing of global features in ASDs.

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