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Atypical Visual Processing but Comparable Levels of Emotion Recognition in Adults with Autism During the Processing of Social Scenes

Abstract

Understanding the underlying visual scanning patterns of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during the processing of complex emotional scenes remains limited. This study compared the complex emotion recognition performance of adults with ASD (n = 23) and matched neurotypical participants (n = 25) using the Reading the Mind in Films Task. Behaviourally, both groups exhibited similar emotion recognition accuracy. Visual fixation time towards key social regions of each stimuli was examined via eye tracking. Individuals with ASD demonstrated significantly longer fixation time towards the non-social areas. No group differences were evident for the facial and body regions of all characters in the social scenes. The findings provide evidence of the heterogeneity associated with complex emotion processing in individuals with ASD.

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Acknowledgments

The researchers would like to extend our gratitude to the participants for the time and effort taken to participate in this study as well as Melissa Black, who assisted in data collection.

Funding

This research is supported by the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) [Project Number 3.032RS], established and supported under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program. JT is supported through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

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JT conceptualised and designed the study, involved in data collection, analysed and interpreted the data, and contributed to drafting the article. NC conceptualised and designed the study, analysed and interpreted the data and critically revised the draft. MF conceptualised and designed the study, interpreted the data, and revised the draft. SB revised and critically contributed to the intellectual content of the article. SG conceptualised and designed the study, interpreted the data and critically revised the article. All authors contributed to and have approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julia S. Y. Tang.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. SB reports no direct conflict of interest related to this article. SB discloses that he has in the last 5 years acted as an author, consultant or lecturer for Shire, Medice, Roche, Eli Lilly, Prima Psychiatry, GLGroup, System Analytic, Kompetento, Expo Medica, and Prophase. He receives royalties for text books and diagnostic tools from Huber/Hogrefe, Kohlhammer and UTB.

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Tang, J.S.Y., Chen, N.T.M., Falkmer, M. et al. Atypical Visual Processing but Comparable Levels of Emotion Recognition in Adults with Autism During the Processing of Social Scenes. J Autism Dev Disord 49, 4009–4018 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04104-y

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Dynamic stimuli
  • Eye tracking
  • Naturalistic
  • Social cognition