Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 7, pp 1386–1392 | Cite as

Brief Report: Recognition of Emotional and Non-emotional Biological Motion in Individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders

  • B. Hubert
  • B. Wicker
  • D. G. Moore
  • E. Monfardini
  • H. Duverger
  • D. Da Fonséca
  • C. DeruelleEmail author
Brief Communication


This study aimed to explore the perception of different components of biological movement in individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome. The ability to recognize a person’s actions, subjective states, emotions, and objects conveyed by moving point-light displays was assessed in 19 participants with autism and 19 comparable typical control participants. Results showed that the participants with autism were as able as controls to name point-light displays of non-human objects and human actions. In contrast, they were significantly poorer at labeling emotional displays, suggesting that they are specifically impaired in attending to emotional states. Most studies have highlighted an emotional deficit in facial expression perception; our results extend this hypothesized deficit to the perception and interpretation of whole-body biological movements.


Biological motion Emotion Autism 



Authors are especially indebted to the autistic and control adults and adolescents who participated in this study. This research was funded by a grant from France Telecom to BW and by SEDSU (FP6-2003-NEST-PATH).


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (DSM-IV). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  2. Atkinson A.P., Dittrich W.H., Gemmell A.J., & Young, A.W. (2004). Emotion perception from dynamic and static body expressions in point-light and full-light displays. Perception, 33, 717–746.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A.M., & Frith, U. (1986). Mechanical, behavioural and intentional understanding of picture stories in autistic children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 4, 113–125.Google Scholar
  4. Blake, R., Turner, L.M., Smoski, M.J., Pozdol, S.L., & Stone, W.L. (2003). Visual recognition of biological motion is impaired in children with autism. Psychological Science, 14, 151–157.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Castelli, F., Frith, C., Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2002). Autism, Asperger syndrome and brain mechanisms for the attribution of mental states to animated shapes. Brain, 125, 1839–1849.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Celani, G., Battacchi, M.W., & Arcidiacono, L. (1999). The understanding of the emotional meaning of facial expressions in people with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 57–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clarke, T.J., Bradshaw, M.F., Field, D.T., Hampson, S.E., & Rose, D. (2005). The perception of emotion from body movement in point-light displays of interpersonal dialogue. Perception, 34, 1171–1180.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dakin, S., & Frith, U. (2005). Vagaries of visual perception in autism. Neuron, 48, 497–507.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Deruelle, C., Rondan, C., Gepner, B., & Fagot, J. (in press). Processing of compound visual stimuli by children with autism and Asperger syndrome. International Journal of Psychology.Google Scholar
  10. Deruelle, C., Rondan, C., Gepner, B., & Tardif, C. (2004). Spatial frequency and face processing in children with autism and Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 199–210.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ehlers, S., Gillberg, C., & Wing, L. (1999). A screening questionnaire for Asperger syndrome and other high-functioning autism spectrum disorders in school age children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 129–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fecteau, S., Mottron, L., Berthiaume, C., & Burack, J.A. (2003). Developmental changes of autistic symptoms. Autism, 7, 255–268.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frith, U., & Happé, F. (1994). Autism: Beyond “theory of mind”. Cognition, 50, 115–132.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gross, T.F. (2005). Global-local precedence in the perception of facial age and emotional expression by children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.Google Scholar
  15. Grossman, E.D., Battelli, L., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2005). Repetitive TMS over posterior STS disrupts perception of biological motion. Vision Research, 45, 2847–2853.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Happé, F.G. (1996). Studying weak central coherence at low levels: Children with autism do not succumb to visual illusions: A research note. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 37, 873–877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hobson, R.P. (1993). Autism and the development of mind. Hove, UK: LEA.Google Scholar
  18. Hobson, R.P., Ouston, J., & Lee, A. (1988). Emotion recognition in autism: Coordinating faces and voices. Psychological Medicine, 18, 911–923.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hobson, R.P., Ouston, J., & Lee, A. (1989). Recognition of emotion by mentally retarded adolescents and young adults. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 93, 434–443.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hubert, B.E., Wicker, B., Monfardini, E., & Deruelle, C. (in press). Electrodermal reactivity to emotion processing in adults with autistic disorders. Autism.Google Scholar
  21. Jellema, T., Baker, C.I., Wicker, B., & Perrett, D.I. (2000). Neural representation for the perception of the intentionality of actions. Brain and Cognition, 44, 280–302.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Johansson, G. (1973). Visual perception or biological motion and a model for its analysis. Perception and Psychophysics, 14, 201–211.Google Scholar
  23. Lawson, J. (2003). Depth accessibility difficulties: An alternative conceptualisation of autism spectrum conditions. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 33 (2), 189–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lawson, J., Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2004). Empathising and systemising in adults with and without Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34 (3), 301––310.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 659–685.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moore, D.G. (1994). The nature of person perception: Experimental investigations with mentally retarded and non-retarded children. Unpublished PhD Thesis, London: University College.Google Scholar
  27. Moore, D.G., Hobson, R.P., & Lee, A. (1997). Components of person perception: An investigation with autistic, non-autistic retarded and typically developing children and adolescents. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 15, 401–423.Google Scholar
  28. Mottron, K.L., Burack, J.A., Iarocci, G., Belleville, S., & Enns, J.T. (2003). Locally oriented perception with an intact global processing among adolescents with high-functioning autism: Evidence from multiple paradigms. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 904–913.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pelphrey, K., Adolphs, R., & Morris, J.P. (2004). Neuroanatomical substrates of social cognition dysfunction in autism. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 101, 259–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pollick, F.E., Hill, H., Calder, A., & Paterson, H. (2003). Recognising facial expression from spatially and temporally modified movements. Perception, 32, 813–826.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rondan, C., & Deruelle, C. (2004). Face processing in high functioning autistic adults: A look into spatial frequencies and the inversion effect. Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies, 4, 149–164.Google Scholar
  32. Rondan, C., & Deruelle, C. (2005). Developmental trends in visuo-spatial abilities in the autistic pathology. Current Psychology of Cognition, 23, 198–204.Google Scholar
  33. Wechsler, D. (1981). Wechsler adult intelligence scale: WAIS-R manual. New York, NY: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  34. Wechsler, D. (1996). Manual for intelligence scale for children, 3rd edn. New York, NY: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. Hubert
    • 1
  • B. Wicker
    • 1
  • D. G. Moore
    • 2
  • E. Monfardini
    • 1
  • H. Duverger
    • 1
  • D. Da Fonséca
    • 1
  • C. Deruelle
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive NeurosciencesCNRSMarseille cedex 20France
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of East LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations