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Psychol Sci. 2018 Nov;29(11):1859-1867. doi: 10.1177/0956797618795471. Epub 2018 Oct 4.

Link Between Facial Identity and Expression Abilities Suggestive of Origins of Face Impairments in Autism: Support for the Social-Motivation Hypothesis.

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1 Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of British Columbia.
2 Program in Neuroscience, University of British Columbia.
3 Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University.


Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have difficulties with processing identity and expression in faces. This is at odds with influential models of face processing that propose separate neural pathways for the identity and expression domains. The social-motivation hypothesis of ASD posits a lack of visual experience with faces as the root cause of face impairments in autism. A direct prediction is that identity and expression abilities should be related in ASD, reflecting the common origin of face impairment in this population. We tested adults with and without ASD ( ns = 34) in identity and expression tasks. Our results showed that performance in the two domains was significantly correlated in the ASD group but not in the comparison group. These results suggest that the most likely origin for face impairments in ASD stems from the input stage impacting development of identity and expression domains alike, consistent with the social-motivation hypothesis.


autism spectrum disorder; expression; face perception; identity; social-motivation hypothesis

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