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Undifferentiated facial electromyography responses to dynamic, audio-visual emotion displays in individuals with autism spectrum disorders


Address for correspondence: Agata Rozga, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, 85 Fifth Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30308, USA; e-mail:


We examined facial electromyography (fEMG) activity to dynamic, audio-visual emotional displays in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and typically developing (TD) individuals. Participants viewed clips of happy, angry, and fearful displays that contained both facial expression and affective prosody while surface electrodes measured corrugator supercilli and zygomaticus major facial muscle activity. Across measures of average and peak activity, the TD group demonstrated emotion-selective fEMG responding, with greater relative activation of the zygomatic to happy stimuli and greater relative activation of the corrugator to fearful stimuli. In contrast, the ASD group largely showed no significant differences between zygomatic and corrugator activity across these emotions. There were no group differences in the magnitude and timing of fEMG response in the muscle congruent to the stimuli. This evidence that fEMG responses in ASD are undifferentiated with respect to the valence of the stimulus is discussed in light of potential underlying neurobiological mechanisms.