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Keywords:

  • autism spectrum disorder;
  • facial expression;
  • local processing;
  • spatial frequencies;
  • inversion effect

Abstract

To investigate whether facial expression processing in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is based on local information of the stimuli, we prepared low spatial frequency (LSF) images with blurred facial features and high spatial frequency (HSF) images with rich facial features from broad (normal) spatial frequency (BSF) images. Eighteen children with ASD (mean age 11.9 years) and 19 typically developing (TD) children (mean age 11.4 years) matched on nonverbal IQ were presented these stimuli in upright and inverted orientations. The children with ASD had difficulty in processing facial expressions from the BSF and LSF images, but not from the HSF images. In addition, the BSF and HSF images elicited the inversion effect in the TD children, but not in the children with ASD. In contrast, the LSF images elicited the inversion effect in both groups of children. These results suggest that children with ASD are biased towards processing facial expression based on local information, even though their capacity to process facial expressions configurally is spared.