Motion-Capture Patterns of Voluntarily Mimicked Dynamic Facial Expressions in Children and Adolescents With and Without ASD


Research shows that neurotypical individuals struggle to interpret the emotional facial expressions of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The current study uses motion-capture to objectively quantify differences between the movement patterns of emotional facial expressions of individuals with and without ASD. Participants volitionally mimicked emotional expressions while wearing facial markers. Recorded marker movement was grouped by expression valence and intensity. We used Growth Curve Analysis to test whether movement patterns were predictable by expression type and participant group. Results show significant interactions between expression type and group, and little effect of emotion valence on ASD expressions. Together, results support perceptions that expressions of individuals with ASD are different from—and more ambiguous than—those of neurotypical individuals’.

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We are grateful to all the families who participated in this research. Research was supported by the NIH (NIDCD), Grant number 1R01DC012774-01, Grossman PI. We are also grateful to Dr. Darrin Rogers, of SUNY Fredonia, for offering statistical consultation.


This study was funded by the NIH (NIDCD), Grant Number 1R01DC012774-01.

Author information

The first author helped to conceive and design the analysis; she collected data for the stimulus-categorization study; she performed the analysis, created the figures, and wrote the paper. The second author contributed data and analysis tools, and performed data processing, such as normalizing motion capture data and calculating distances between markers. The third author helped to conceive and design the analysis, and provided tools for performing it. The fourth author contributed analysis tools and techniques, along with data-processing techniques. The fifth author contributed to the design of the methods and oversaw data processing. The last author conceived the study design, oversaw motion-capture data collection, oversaw motion-capture pre-processing, and edited the paper.

Correspondence to Emily Zane.

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All authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent or assent (for participants under the age of 12) was obtained from all individual participants who were included in the study, and informed consent was obtained from all participants’ caregivers.

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Zane, E., Yang, Z., Pozzan, L. et al. Motion-Capture Patterns of Voluntarily Mimicked Dynamic Facial Expressions in Children and Adolescents With and Without ASD. J Autism Dev Disord 49, 1062–1079 (2019).

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  • ASD
  • Motion capture
  • Emotional facial expressions
  • Social communication