Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 890–902

Wanting it Too Much: An Inverse Relation Between Social Motivation and Facial Emotion Recognition in Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Heather D. Garman
  • Christine J. Spaulding
  • Sara Jane Webb
  • Amori Yee Mikami
  • James P. Morris
  • Matthew D. Lerner
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10578-015-0620-5

Cite this article as:
Garman, H.D., Spaulding, C.J., Webb, S.J. et al. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev (2016) 47: 890. doi:10.1007/s10578-015-0620-5


This study examined social motivation and early-stage face perception as frameworks for understanding impairments in facial emotion recognition (FER) in a well-characterized sample of youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Early-stage face perception (N170 event-related potential latency) was recorded while participants completed a standardized FER task, while social motivation was obtained via parent report. Participants with greater social motivation exhibited poorer FER, while those with shorter N170 latencies exhibited better FER for child angry faces stimuli. Social motivation partially mediated the relationship between a faster N170 and better FER. These effects were all robust to variations in IQ, age, and ASD severity. These findings augur against theories implicating social motivation as uniformly valuable for individuals with ASD, and augment models suggesting a close link between early-stage face perception, social motivation, and FER in this population. Broader implications for models and development of FER in ASD are discussed.


Autism spectrum disorder Social motivation Emotion recognition N170 Social perception 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
American Psychological Foundation (US)
  • Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Fellowship
Jefferson Scholars Foundation
  • James & Elizabeth Wright Fellowship
American Psychological Association (US)
  • Dissertation Award
International Max Planck Research School
    Association for Psychological Science
      National Institute of Mental Health (US)
      • R00MH079617-03
      Adelphi University
      • Center for Health Innovation - Visiting Scholar

      Copyright information

      © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

      Authors and Affiliations

      • Heather D. Garman
        • 1
      • Christine J. Spaulding
        • 1
      • Sara Jane Webb
        • 2
      • Amori Yee Mikami
        • 3
      • James P. Morris
        • 4
      • Matthew D. Lerner
        • 1
      1. 1.Department of PsychologyStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
      2. 2.Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
      3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
      4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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