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Autism. 2015 Jul;19(5):580-7. doi: 10.1177/1362361314536937. Epub 2014 Jun 12.

Judgments of social awkwardness from brief exposure to children with and without high-functioning autism.

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Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Emerson College, USA Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA


We form first impressions of many traits based on very short interactions. This study examines whether typical adults judge children with high-functioning autism to be more socially awkward than their typically developing peers based on very brief exposure to still images, audio-visual, video-only, or audio-only information. We used video and audio recordings of children with and without high-functioning autism captured during a story-retelling task. Typically developing adults were presented with 1 s and 3 s clips of these children, as well as still images, and asked to judge whether the person in the clip was socially awkward. Our findings show that participants who are naïve to diagnostic differences between the children in the clips judged children with high-functioning autism to be socially awkward at a significantly higher rate than their typically developing peers. These results remain consistent for exposures as short as 1 s to visual and/or auditory information, as well as for still images. These data suggest that typical adults use subtle nonverbal and non-linguistic cues produced by children with high-functioning autism to form rapid judgments of social awkwardness with the potential for significant repercussions in social interactions.


autism; facial and vocal expressions; first impressions; social awkwardness; thin slices; zero-acquaintance

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