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Soc Neurosci. 2006;1(3-4):349-63. doi: 10.1080/17470910601040772.

Impaired recognition of negative basic emotions in autism: a test of the amygdala theory.

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Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Colchester, UK.


Autism and Asperger Syndrome are autism spectrum conditions (ASC) characterized by deficits in understanding others' minds, an aspect of which involves recognizing emotional expressions. This is thought to be related to atypical function and structure of the amygdala, and performance by people with ASC on emotion recognition tasks resembles that seen in people with acquired amygdala damage. In general, emotion recognition findings in ASC have been inconsistent, which may reflect low numbers of participants, low numbers of stimuli and trials, heterogeneity of symptom severity within ASC groups, and ceiling effects on some tasks. The present study tested 39 male adults with ASC and 39 typical male controls on a task of basic emotion recognition from photographs, in two separate experiments. On a control face discrimination task the group with ASC were not impaired. People with ASC were less accurate on the emotion recognition task compared to controls, but only for the negative basic emotions. This is discussed in the light of similar findings from people with damage to the amygdala.

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