Face recognition performance of individuals with Asperger syndrome on the Cambridge face memory test

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Abstract

Although face recognition deficits in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger syndrome (AS), are widely acknowledged, the empirical evidence is mixed. This in part reflects the failure to use standardized and psychometrically sound tests. We contrasted standardized face recognition scores on the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) for 34 individuals with AS with those for 42, IQ-matched non-ASD individuals, and age-standardized scores from a large Australian cohort. We also examined the influence of IQ, autistic traits, and negative affect on face recognition performance. Overall, participants with AS performed significantly worse on the CFMT than the non-ASD participants and when evaluated against standardized test norms. However, while 24% of participants with AS presented with severe face recognition impairment (>2 SDs below the mean), many individuals performed at or above the typical level for their age: 53% scored within +/− 1 SD of the mean and 9% demonstrated superior performance (>1 SD above the mean). Regression analysis provided no evidence that IQ, autistic traits, or negative affect significantly influenced face recognition: diagnostic group membership was the only significant predictor of face recognition performance. In sum, face recognition performance in ASD is on a continuum, but with average levels significantly below non-ASD levels of performance. Autism Res2011,4:449–455. © 2011 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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