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Psychol Sci. 2013 May;24(5):723-32. doi: 10.1177/0956797612463582. Epub 2013 Mar 25.

Alexithymia, not autism, predicts poor recognition of emotional facial expressions.

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Department of Psychology, City University London, London, England.


Despite considerable research into whether face perception is impaired in autistic individuals, clear answers have proved elusive. In the present study, we sought to determine whether co-occurring alexithymia (characterized by difficulties interpreting emotional states) may be responsible for face-perception deficits previously attributed to autism. Two experiments were conducted using psychophysical procedures to determine the relative contributions of alexithymia and autism to identity and expression recognition. Experiment 1 showed that alexithymia correlates strongly with the precision of expression attributions, whereas autism severity was unrelated to expression-recognition ability. Experiment 2 confirmed that alexithymia is not associated with impaired ability to detect expression variation; instead, results suggested that alexithymia is associated with difficulties interpreting intact sensory descriptions. Neither alexithymia nor autism was associated with biased or imprecise identity attributions. These findings accord with the hypothesis that the emotional symptoms of autism are in fact due to co-occurring alexithymia and that existing diagnostic criteria may need to be revised.


alexithymia; autism; emotion recognition; emotions; face perception; facial expressions; identity recognition; individual differences

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