Both social input and facial feedback appear to be processed differently by individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We tested the effects of both of these types of input on laughter in children with ASD. Sensitivity to facial feedback was tested in 43 children with ASD, aged 8–14 years, and 43 typically developing children matched for mental age (6–14), in order to examine whether children with ASD use bodily feedback as an implicit source of information. Specifically, children were asked to view cartoons as they normally would (control condition), and while holding a pencil in their mouth forcing their smiling muscles into activation (feedback condition) while rating their enjoyment of the cartoons. The authors also explored the effects of social input in children with ASD by investigating whether the presence of a caregiver or friend (companion condition), or the presence of a laugh track superimposed upon the cartoon (laugh track condition) increased the children’s self-rated enjoyment of cartoons or the amount of positive affect they displayed. Results showed that the group with ASD was less affected by all three experimental conditions, but also that group differences seemed to have been driven by one specific symptom of ASD: restricted range of affect. The strong relationship between restricted affect and insensitivity to facial feedback found in this study sheds light on the implications of restricted affect for social development in ASD.
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The DSM-5, released in 2014, eliminated PDD-NOS as a diagnostic category, and altered the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder, so it is possible that the 17 children in this study diagnosed with PDD-NOS, prior to the release of DSM-5, would not meet DSM-5 criteria for ASD.
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This research was supported by a pre-doctoral, mentor-based fellowship awarded to Deborah Fein and Molly Helt by Autism Speaks.
Study conception and design: Helt, Fein; Acquisition of data: Helt; Analysis and interpretation of data: Helt; Drafting of manuscript: Helt, Fein; Critical revision: Helt, Fein.
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Helt, M.S., Fein, D.A. Facial Feedback and Social Input: Effects on Laughter and Enjoyment in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 83–94 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2545-z
- Facial feedback
- Embodied cognition