Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 44, Issue 9, pp 2363–2368 | Cite as

Brief Report: Accuracy and Response Time for the Recognition of Facial Emotions in a Large Sample of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Elian Fink
  • Marc de Rosnay
  • Marlies Wierda
  • Hans M. Koot
  • Sander Begeer
Brief Report


The empirical literature has presented inconsistent evidence for deficits in the recognition of basic emotion expressions in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which may be due to the focus on research with relatively small sample sizes. Additionally, it is proposed that although children with ASD may correctly identify emotion expression they rely on more deliberate, more time-consuming strategies in order to accurately recognize emotion expressions when compared to typically developing children. In the current study, we examine both emotion recognition accuracy and response time in a large sample of children, and explore the moderating influence of verbal ability on these findings. The sample consisted of 86 children with ASD (M age = 10.65) and 114 typically developing children (M age = 10.32) between 7 and 13 years of age. All children completed a pre-test (emotion word–word matching), and test phase consisting of basic emotion recognition, whereby they were required to match a target emotion expression to the correct emotion word; accuracy and response time were recorded. Verbal IQ was controlled for in the analyses. We found no evidence of a systematic deficit in emotion recognition accuracy or response time for children with ASD, controlling for verbal ability. However, when controlling for children’s accuracy in word–word matching, children with ASD had significantly lower emotion recognition accuracy when compared to typically developing children. The findings suggest that the social impairments observed in children with ASD are not the result of marked deficits in basic emotion recognition accuracy or longer response times. However, children with ASD may be relying on other perceptual skills (such as advanced word–word matching) to complete emotion recognition tasks at a similar level as typically developing children.


Autism spectrum disorder Emotion recognition Emotion processing Social communication 



This research was initiated and financially supported by Autitouch BV. Children, parents and schools are thankfully acknowledged for their help. Tessa Glasbergen and Halima Azdad asssisted with the data collection.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  2. Bal, E., Harden, E., Lamb, D., Van Hecke, A. V., Denver, J., & Porges, S. (2010). Emotion recognition in children with autism spectrum disorders: Relations to eye gaze and autonomic state. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(3), 358–370.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baron-cohen, S., Spitz, A., & Cross, P. (1993). Do children with autism recognise surprise? A research note. Cognition & Emotion, 7, 507–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Begeer, S., Koot, H. M., Rieffe, C., Meerum Terwogt, M., & Stegge, H. (2008). Emotional competence in children with autism: Diagnostic criteria and empirical evidence. Developmental Review, 28, 342–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boucher, J., Lewis, V., & Collis, G. M. (2000). Voice processing abilities in children with autism, children with specific language impairments, and young typically developing children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(7), 847–857.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Constantino, J., & Gruber, C. (2007). The SRS manual. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  7. Dunn, L., & Dunn, D. (2007). Manual: Peabody picture vocabulary test (4th ed.). Bloomington, MN: Pearson Assessments.Google Scholar
  8. Grossman, J. B., Klin, A., Carter, A. S., & Volkmar, F. R. (2000). Verbal bias in recognition of facial emotions in children with Asperger syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 369–379.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 36(1), 5–25.Google Scholar
  10. Harms, M. B., Martin, A., & Wallace, G. L. (2010). Facial emotion recognition in autism spectrum disorders: A review of behavioral and neuroimaging studies. Neuropsychology review, 20(3), 290–322.Google Scholar
  11. Heerey, E. A., Keltner, D., & Capps, L. M. (2003). Making sense of self-conscious emotion: Linking theory of mind and emotion in children with autism. Emotion, 3(4), 394–400.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hobson, R. P. (1991). Methodological issues for experiments on autistic individuals’ perception and understanding of emotion. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32(7), 1135–1158.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hodapp, A. F., & Gerken, K. C. (1999). Correlations between scores for Peabody picture vocabulary test-III and the Wechsler intelligence scale for children-III. Psychological Reports, 84(3c), 1139–1142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Homer, M., & Rutherford, M. D. (2008). Individuals with autism can categorize facial expressions. Child Neuropsychology, 14(5), 419–437.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jones, C. R. G., Pickles, A., Falcaro, M., Marsden, A. J. S., Happé, F., Scott, S. K., et al. (2011). A multimodal approach to emotion recognition ability in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(3), 275–285.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Klin, A., Sparrow, S., de Bildt, A., Cicchetti, D., Cohen, D., & Volkmar, F. (1999). A normed study of face recognition in autism and related disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29(6), 499–508.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Law Smith, M. J., Montagne, B., Perrett, D. I., Gill, M., & Gallagher, L. (2010). Detecting subtle facial emotion recognition deficits in high-functioning autism using dynamic stimuli of varying intensities. Neuropsychologia, 48(9), 2777–2781.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Loveland, K. A., Bachevalier, J., Pearson, D. A., & Lane, D. M. (2008). Fronto-limbic functioning in children and adolescents with and without autism. Neuropsychologia, 46(1), 49–62.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lundqvist, D., Flykt, A., & Ohman, A. (1998). Karolinska directed emotional faces set (KDEF). Stockholm: Department of Neurosciences, Karolinska Hospital.Google Scholar
  20. Philip, R. C. M., Whalley, H. C., Stanfield, A. C., Sprengelmeyer, R., Santos, I. M., Young, A. W., et al. (2010). Deficits in facial, body movement and vocal emotional processing in autism spectrum disorders. Psychological Medicine, 40(11), 1919–1929.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Piggot, J., Kwon, H., Mobbs, D., Blasey, C., Lotspeich, L., Menon, V., et al. (2004). Emotional attribution in high-functioning individuals with autistic spectrum disorder: A functional imaging study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 43, 473–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Roeyers, H., & Thys, M. (2010). Social Responsiveness Scale-NL. Amsterdam: Hogrefe Uitgevers B.V.Google Scholar
  23. Rump, K. M., Giovannelli, J. L., Minshew, N. J., & Strauss, M. S. (2009). The development of emotion recognition in individuals with autism. Child Development, 80, 1434–1447.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schlichting, L. (2005). Peabody picture vocabulary test-III-NL. Amsterdam: Pearson Assessment and Information B.V.Google Scholar
  25. Schultz, D., Izard, C. E., Ackerman, B. P., & Youngstrom, E. A. (2001). Emotion knowledge in economically disadvantaged children: Self-regulatory antecedents and relations to social difficulties and withdrawal. Development and Psychopathology, 13(1), 53–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Tracy, J., Robins, R., Schriber, R., & Solomon, M. (2011). Is emotion recognition impaired in individuals with autism spectrum disorders? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(1), 102–109.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Uljarevic, M., & Hamilton, A. (2013). Recognition of emotions in autism: A formal meta-analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(7), 1517–1526.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wallace, G. L., Case, L. K., Harms, M. B., Silvers, J. A., Kenworthy, L., & Martin, A. (2011). Diminished sensitivity to sad facial expressions in high functioning autism spectrum disorders is associated with symptomatology and adaptive functioning. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(11), 1475–1486.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wang, A. T., Dapretto, M., Hariri, A. R., Sigman, M., & Bookheimer, S. Y. (2004). Neural correlates of facial affect processing in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(4), 481–490.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elian Fink
    • 1
  • Marc de Rosnay
    • 1
  • Marlies Wierda
    • 2
  • Hans M. Koot
    • 2
  • Sander Begeer
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Developmental PsychologyVU UniversityAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations