Comparing internal representations of facial expression kinematics between autistic and non‐autistic adults

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Recent developments suggest that autistic individuals require dynamic angry expressions to have a higher speed in order for them to be successfully identified. Therefore, it is plausible that autistic individuals do not have a ‘deficit’ in angry expression recognition, but rather their internal representation of these expressions is characterised by very high-speed movement. In this study, matched groups of autistic and non-autistic adults completed a novel emotion-based task which employed dynamic displays of happy, angry and sad point light facial (PLF) expressions. On each trial, participants moved a slider to manipulate the speed of a PLF stimulus until it moved at a speed that, in their ‘mind's eye’, was typical of happy, angry or sad expressions. Participants were shown three different types of PLFs—those showing the full-face, only the eye region, and only the mouth region, wherein the latter two were included to test whether differences in facial information sampling underpinned any dissimilarities in speed attributions. Across both groups, participants attributed the highest speeds to angry, then happy, then sad, facial motion. Participants increased the speed of angry and happy expressions by 41% and 27% respectively and decreased the speed of sad expressions by 18%. This suggests that participants have ‘caricatured’ internal representations of emotion, wherein emotion-related kinematic cues are over-emphasised. There were no differences between autistic and non-autistic individuals in the speeds attributed to full-face and partial-face angry, happy and sad expressions respectively. Consequently, we find no evidence that autistic adults possess atypically fast internal representations of anger.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalAutism Research
Early online date30 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Nov 2021


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