Expression Recognition Difficulty Is Associated with Social But Not Attention-to-Detail Autistic Traits and Reflects Both Alexithymia and Perceptual Difficulty

  • Ellen BotheEmail author
  • Romina Palermo
  • Gillian Rhodes
  • Nichola Burton
  • Linda Jeffery
Original Paper


Autistic people often show difficulty with facial expression recognition. However, the degree of difficulty varies widely, which might reflect varying symptom profiles. We examined three domains of autistic traits in the typical population and found that more autistic-like social skills were associated with greater difficulty labelling expressions, and more autistic-like communication was associated with greater difficulty labelling and perceptually discriminating between expressions. There were no associations with autistic-like attention to detail. We also found that labelling, but not perceptual, difficulty was mediated by alexithymia. We found no evidence that labelling or perceptual difficulty was mediated by weakened adaptive coding. Results suggest expression recognition varies between the sub-clinical expressions of autistic symptom domains and reflects both co-occurring alexithymia and perceptual difficulty.


Autism Autistic-like traits Alexithymia Individual differences Emotion Expression recognition Facial expression Adaptive norm-based coding Aftereffects 



We thank Murray Mayberry, Gilles E. Gignac, Markus Neumann and Laura M. Engfors for their valuable advice. We also thank the participants and undergraduate students who contributed to data collection. EB conceived of the study, participated in its design, collected some data, performed the statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript; RP conceived of the study, participated in its design and helped to draft and edit the manuscript; GR conceived of the study and participated in its design; NB conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordinated most of the data collection; LJ conceived of the study; participated in its design and helped to draft and edit the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research is supported by Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence Grant CE110001021 and a Research Training Program Stipend to EB.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and Its Disorders, School of Psychological Science M304The University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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