The Development of Face Expertise in Autism and the Own Race Advantage

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. Hanley1, D. M. Riby2, M. Hirai3, T. Yamagata4, N. Ikeda3 and H. Shimoizumi5, (1)South Road, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (2)Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom, (3)Jichi Medical University, Tochigi, Japan, (4)Jichi Medical University, Shimotsuke, Japan, (5)International University of Health and Welfare, Tochigi, Japan
Background:  Face perception atypicalities have been well-documented in relation to autism spectrum disorders (ASD), for example, suggesting a lack of ‘face expertise’ (Schultz, 2005). These abnormalities are important to understand as they link to the defining social impairment in ASD. Studies in typical development (TD) show that adults and children are better at recognising faces of their own race than those of another race (own-race-advantage; ORA). The ORA demonstrates how experience (e.g. increased exposure to own race faces) shapes face perception and provides an interesting way of probing the role of experience/expertise in face perception in ASD. Two papers have explored the ORA in autism, but have provided inconsistent findings (Hui-Lin-Chien et al., 2014; Wilson et al., 2011).

Objectives:  The aim of this study was to explore the development of the ORA in children with ASD compared to TD children in Japan. We hypothesized that the ORA would be reduced in children with ASD compared to TD children. Critically, we used a face recognition task with 4 different stimuli manipulations to explore how manipulating information from different areas of the face impacted upon recognition (e.g. eye vs. mouth). We hypothesized that children with ASD would have the most difficulty in the easy-eye and hard-eye condition, in line with the idea that difficulties with face expertise in ASD are linked with attention to the eyes.

Methods:  52 participants (7- 16 years, 24 ASD, 28 TD children, matched on age and non-verbal ability) completed a sequential face recognition task. The task was adapted from Hui-Lin Chein et al., 2014). Participants were shown a face (3s) followed by a blank screen with a fixation cross (1s), followed an image with two faces. From the two faces, participants had to identify the face they had previously seen. The additional face was either a completely different face (IC;identity change), or the same face as before with a manipulation: easy eyes (EE; eye change), hard eyes (HE; eye spacing change) or hard mouth (HM; change in spacing between nose and mouth). Half of the 64 trials contained Asian faces and half were Caucasian.

Results:  A 2X4 factorial ANOVA revealed a main effect of condition whereby both groups found each manipulation increasingly difficult (IC < EE <HE <HM), but no interaction with group. Therefore children with ASD did not suffer an atypical decrement when recognition dependent upon changes in the eyes region. Although there was a trend towards significance, a main effect or interaction effect for the race of the face was not found (p = .07), therefore an ORA was not clearly demonstrated in either group

Conclusions:  The current study lends support to the idea that children with ASD do not demonstrate an ORA. However, in this case neither did the TD children. Additionally, children with ASD showed the same pattern of performance across the conditions indicating they did not have particular difficulties in noticing changes dependent on the eye region. The implications will be discussed.