Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 100–111

Responses to Nonverbal Behaviour of Dynamic Virtual Characters in High-Functioning Autism

  • Caroline Schwartz
  • Gary Bente
  • Astrid Gawronski
  • Leonhard Schilbach
  • Kai Vogeley
Original Paper


We investigated feelings of involvement evoked by nonverbal behaviour of dynamic virtual characters in 20 adults with high-functioning autism (HFA) and high IQ as well as 20 IQ-matched control subjects. The effects of diagnostic group showed that subjects with autism experienced less “contact” and “urge” to establish contact across conditions and less “interest” than controls in a condition with meaningful facial expressions. Moreover, the analyses within groups revealed that nonverbal behaviour had less influence on feelings in HFA subjects. In conclusion, disturbances of HFA subjects in experiencing involvement in social encounters with virtual characters displaying nonverbal behaviour do not extend to all kinds of feelings, suggesting different pathways in the ascription of involvement in social situations.


Mentalizing High-functioning autism (HFA) Nonverbal behaviour Virtual characters 


  1. Abell, F., Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2000). Do triangles play tricks? Attribution of mental states to animated shapes in normal and abnormal development. Cognitive Development, 15(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alloy, L. B., Kelly, K. A., Mineka, S., & Clements, C. M. (1990). Comorbidity of anxiety and depressive disorders: A helplessness-hopelessness perspective. In J. D. Maser & C. R. Cloninger (Eds.), Comorbidity of mood and anxiety disorders (pp. 499–543). Washington: American Psychiatric.Google Scholar
  3. Back, E., Ropar, D., & Mitchell, P. (2007). Do the eyes have it? Inferring mental states from animated faces in autism. Child Development, 78(2), 397–411.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness. An essay on autism and theory of mind. Boston: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001a). The autism spectrum quotient (AQ): Evidence from asperger syndrome/high functioning autism, males and females, Scientists and Mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31(1), 5–17.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Hill, J. (2001b). The ‘Reading the mind in the eyes’ test revised version: A study with normal adults and adults with asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 241–252.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Beck, A. T., & Steer, R. A. (1987). Beck depression inventory–Manual. San Antonio: The Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  8. Bente, G., Petersen, A., Krämer, N. C., & Buschmann, J. U. (1999). Virtuelle Realität im Forschungseinsatz. Ein Wirkungsvergleich videovermittelter und computersimulierter nonverbaler Kommunikation. Medienpsychologie Zeitschrift für Individual- und Massenkommunikation, 2, 95–120.Google Scholar
  9. Boraston, Z., & Blakemore, S. J. (2007). The application of eye-tracking technology in the study of autism. Journal of Physiology, 581(3), 893–898.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Braverman, M., Fein, D., Lucci, D., & Waterhouse, L. (1989). Affect comprehension in children with pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19(2), 301–315.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Bruning, N., Konrad, K., & Herpertz-Dahlmann, B. (2005). Bedeutung und ergebnisse der theory of mind-forschung für den autismus und andere psychiatrische erkrankungen. Zeitschrift für Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie und Psychotherapie, 33(2), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campbell, R., Lawrence, K., Mandy, W., Mitra, C., Jeyakuma, L., & Skuse, D. (2006). Meanings in motion and faces: Developmental associations between the processing of intention from geometrical animations and gaze detection accuracy. Development and Psychopathology, 18(1), 99–118.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Carruthers, P. (2009). How we know our own minds: The relationship between mindreading and metacognition. Behavioral and brain sciences, 32(2), 121–138.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 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(1), 57–66.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Dautenhahn, K., & Werry, I. (2004). Towards interactive robots in autism therapy: Background, motivation and challenges. Pragmatics and Cognition, 12(1), 1–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. David, N., Gawronski, A., Santos, N. S., Huff, W., Lehnhardt, F. G., Newen, A., et al. (2008). Dissociation between key processes of social cognition in autism: Impaired mentalizing but intact sense of agency. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(4), 593–605.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1978). Facial action coding system: A technique for the measurement of facial movement. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  18. Frith, C. D. (2004). Schizophrenia and theory of mind. Psychological Medicine, 34, 385–389.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Frith, U., & de Vignemont, F. (2005). Egocentrism, allocentrism, and Asperger syndrome. Consciousness and Cognition, 14(4), 719–738.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Gepner, B., Deruelle, C., & Grynfeltt, S. (2001). Motion and emotion: A novel approach to the study of face processing by young autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 37–45.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Goldman, A. I. (2006). Simulating minds: The philosophy, psychology and neuroscience of mindreading. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Harris, P. (1992). From simulation to folk psychology: The case for development. Mind and Language, 7, 120–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hautzinger, M., Bailer, M., Worall, H., & Keller, F. (1995). Beck- depressions-inventar (BDI), Testhandbuch (2nd ed.). Bern: Hans Huber.Google Scholar
  24. Hendriks, M., & Vingerhoets, A. (2006). Social messages of crying faces: Their influence on anticipated person perception, emotions and behavioural responses. Cognition and Emotion, 20(6), 878–886.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hill, E., Bethoz, S., & Frith, U. (2004). Brief report: Cognitive processing of own emotions in individuals with autistic spectrum disorder and in their relatives. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(2), 229–235.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Kennedy, D. P., & Courchesne, E. (2008). The instrinsic functional organization of the brain is altered in autism. Neuroimage, 39, 1877–1885.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Klin, A. (2000). Attributing social meaning to ambiguous visual stimuli in higher-functioning autism and asperger syndrome: The social attribution task. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 41(7), 831–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Klin, A., Jones, W., Schultz, R., & Volkmar, R. T. (2003). The enactive mind, or from actions to cognition: Lessons from autism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences, 358(1430), 345–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kuzmanovic, B., Georgescu, A. L., Eickhoff, S. B., Shah, N. J., Bente, G., Fink, G. R. et al. (2009). Duration matters: Dissociating neural correlates of detection and evaluation of social gaze. Neuroimage, 46(4), 1154–1163.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kylliäinen, A., & Hietanen, J. K. (2004). Attention orienting by another’s gaze direction in children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(3), 435–444.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Lakin, J. L. (2006). Automatic cognitive processes and nonverbal communication. In V. Manusov & M. L. Patterson (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Nonverbal Communication (pp. 59–77). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  32. Larsen, R. J., & Shackelford, T. K. (1996). Gaze avoidance: Personality and social judgments of people who avoid direct face-to-face contact. Personality and Individual Differences, 21(6), 907–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Leekam, S., Baron-Cohen, S., Perrett, D., Milders, M., & Brown, S. (1997). Eye-direction detection: a dissociation between geometric and joint attention skills in autism. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 15(1), 77–95.Google Scholar
  34. Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Social cognitive neuroscience: A review of core processes. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 259–289.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Loveland, K. A., Tunali-Kotoski, B., Chen, R., Brelsford, K. A., Ortegon, J., & Pearson, D. A. (1995). Intermodal perception of affect in persons with autism or Down syndrome. Development and Psychopathology, 9(3), 579–593.Google Scholar
  36. Mason, M. F., Tatkow, E. P., & Macrae, C. N. (2005). The look of love: Gaze shifts and person perception. Psychological Science, 16(3), 236–239.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Mojzisch, A., Schilbach, L., Helmert, J. R., Pannasch, S., Velichkovsky, B. M., & Vogeley, K. (2006). The effects of self-involvement on attention, arousal, and facial expression during social interaction with virtual others: A psychophysiological study. Social Neuroscience, 1, 184–195.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Nation, K., & Penny, S. (2008). Sensitivity to eye gaze in autism: Is it normal? Is it automatic? Is it social? Development and Psychopathology, 20(1), 79–97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Oldfield, R. C. (1971). The assessment and analysis of handedness: The edinburgh inventory. Neuropsychologia, 9, 97–113.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Osgood, C. E., Suci, G. J., & Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The measurement of meaning. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  41. Otta, E., Lira, B. B. P., Delevati, N. M., Cesar, O. P., & Pires, C. S. G. (1994). The effect of smiling and head tilting on person perception. Journal of Psychology, 128(3), 323–331.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F., & Rogers, S. J. (1990). Are there emotion perception deficits in young autistic children? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31(3), 343–361.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Ristic, J., Mottron, L., Friesen, C. K., Iarocci, G., Burack, J. A., & Kingstone, A. (2005). Eyes are special but not for everyone: The case of autism. Cognitive Brain Research, 24(3), 715–718.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Schilbach, L., Ritzl, A., Krämer, N. C., Newen, A., Zilles, K., Fink, G. R., et al. (2006). Being with virtual others: Neural correlates of social interaction. Neuropsychologia, 44, 718–730.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Schilbach, L., Eickhoff, S., Mojzisch, A., & Vogeley, K. (2008). What′s in a smile? Neural correlates of facial embodiment during social interaction. Social Neuroscience, 3, 37–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Schwarz-Friesel, M. (2007). Sprache und Emotion. Tübingen: Francke.Google Scholar
  47. Senju, A., Tojo, Y., Dairoku, H., & Hasegawa, T. (2004). Reflexive orienting in response to eye gaze and an arrow in children with and without autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(3), 445–458.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Stewart, M. E., Barnard, L., Pearson, J., Hasan, R., & O’Brien, G. (2006). Presentation of depression in autism and Asperger syndrome: A review. Autism, 10(1), 103–116.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Swettenham, J., Condie, A., Campbell, R., Milne, E., & Coleman, M. (2003). Does the perception of eyes trigger reflexive visual orienting in autism? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, Biological Sciences, 358(1430), 325–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tewes, U. (1991). Hamburg-Wechsler Intelligenztest für Erwachsene, Revision 1991. Bern: Huber.Google Scholar
  51. Vlamings, P. H., Stauder, J. E., van Son, I. A., & Mottron, L. (2005). Atypical visual orienting to gaze and arrow-cues in adults with high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35(3), 267–277.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Williams, G. P., & Kleinke, C. L. (1993). Effects of mutual gaze and touch on attraction, mood, and cardiovascular reactivity. Journal of Research in Personality, 27(2), 170–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Schwartz
    • 1
  • Gary Bente
    • 1
  • Astrid Gawronski
    • 2
  • Leonhard Schilbach
    • 2
  • Kai Vogeley
    • 2
  1. 1.Humanwissenschaftliche Fakultät, Department of Social PsychologyUniversity of CologneCologneGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of CologneCologneGermany

Personalised recommendations