Eye Gaze Characteristics of Adults on the Autism Spectrum during Complex Dynamic Facial Emotion Recognition

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. H. Black1,2, N. T. Chen1,3,4, S. Bolte1,5,6,7 and S. J. Girdler8,9, (1)Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), Long Pocket, Brisbane, Australia, (2)School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, Curtin University, Perth, Australia, (3)School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University, Perth, Australia, (4)School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia, (5)Center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders at Karolinska Institutet (KIND), Institutionen för kvinnors och barns hälsa (KBH), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (6)Karolinska Institutet Center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (KIND), Dept. Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (7)Stockholm County Council, Center for Psychiatry Research, Stockholm, Sweden, (8)School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia, (9)Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), Brisbane, Australia
Background:  Impairment in facial emotion recognition (FER) is regularly associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and possibly underlies aspects of the social communicative difficulties of ASD. Research has sought to examine the contributing mechanisms of this FER difficulty through eye tracking. However, to date, much of the existing literature examining eye gaze during FER has focused on examining the processing of static images of basic emotions (happy, sad, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise). Such stimuli may be inadequate in providing an accurate representation of the extent of FER deficits in ASD. It is arguable that individuals with ASD (particularly higher functioning individuals or adults) have greater difficulty in understanding complex nuanced emotions during social interaction. As such, the investigation of FER of complex emotion may have greater direct practical relevance to the difficulties experienced by people with ASD. To date, no study has examined the eye gaze patterns of adults with ASD during FER of complex, dynamic stimuli. The investigation of eye gaze during the FER of complex, dynamic stimuli may provide more extensive insights in to the cognitive processes underlying FER in ASD.

Objectives:  To examine the eye gaze characteristics of adults with high functioning ASD while viewing complex, dynamic facial emotions to investigate the underlying attentional and cognitive processes underlying complex FER in ASD.

Methods: Eye tracking data was recorded while 20 adults with high functioning ASD and 20 IQ and gender matched typically developing adults completed a labelling FER task. Participants were required to complete subset of the Cambridge Mind Reading Face-Voice battery, a battery which consists of videos of complex emotions.

Results:  Adults with ASD were significantly less accurate at identifying positive complex emotions (vibrant, empathic, exonerated, and intimate) compared to typically developing counterparts. Adults with ASD also fixated longer to the mouths of complex, dynamic emotions regardless of emotional valence.

Conclusions:  Findings suggest that the processing of positive affect is particularly impaired in ASD when viewing complex, dynamic stimuli. Excessive focus to the mouths of complex emotions during FER may hinder the extraction of pertinent information from other core face regions, which may cause particularly pronounced deficits when viewing positively valanced emotions. The findings provide useful insights into the mechanisms of emotion recognition impairments in ASD during the processing of complex social information.