Title: Recognition of immaturity and emotional expressions in blended faces by children with autism and other developmental disorders.
Author: Thomas Gross. University of Redlands. California
Source: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2008) 38, 297-3111.
Note: This article consisted of 2 studies. Here I present only the results of study #1.

A refreshing break from the vaccine controversy. In this wonderfully designed study Dr. Gross examined the ability to recognize “immaturity” (age) and emotional expressions by children with a variety of developmental disorders. The researcher compared children with autism (20), mental retardation (18), language disorders (18), and a group of typically developing kids (18). After some necessary training, the children were presented a series of 3.5 x 5 photographs. For the testing of emotional expressions, the pictures consisted of a person’s face showing a specific emotion (happy, sad, or angry) followed by a group of pictures of a blended faces. Blended faces were created by uniting the top and bottom of two photographs so that the eyes (upper part) of the face belong to someone, while the lips area came from someone else’s photograph. These faces sometimes matched in their emotional presentation (for example top angry –bottom angry) while sometimes they presented a mismatch (for example top angry – bottom happy). The child was then asked which of the pictures (blended faces) showed someone feeling just like the picture presented before (non-blended face). For the testing of immaturity (age), the first photographs consisted of pictures of a child’s face or that of an adult’s face, followed by a blended face (for example top child – bottom child or top child – bottom adult). The child was then asked which of the blended faces showed someone the same age as the picture presented before (non-blended face). Children with autism identified fewer correct pairings (first picture to blended picture) of both “emotion” and “age” than typically developing children and children with language impairment; but their performance was not significantly different (statistically) than that of children with mental retardation. However, there was a qualitative difference in the type of errors made by the groups. When identifying facial expressions, children with autism were less likely to attend to the upper portion of the face and more likely to attend to the lower face than children in all other 3 groups. This suggests that the deficit in facial expression recognition unique to children with autism may be due to differences in the processing of facial feature information. These results suggest that while typically developing kids, as well as kids with MR and language delays use the entire face to make decisions about facial expressions, children with autism seem to focus only on the lower portion of the face, possibly missing key social information presented by other parts of the face. This may inform treatment intervention design.

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