Facial expression recognition and the autism spectrum

Ainsworth, Kirsty (2016) Facial expression recognition and the autism spectrum. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

An atypical recognition of facial expressions of emotion is thought to be part of the characteristics associated with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis (DSM-5, 2013). However, despite over three decades of experimental research into facial expression recognition (FER) in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), conflicting results are still reported (Harms, Martin, and Wallace, 2010). The thesis presented here aims to explore FER in ASD using novel techniques, as well as assessing the contribution of a co-occurring emotion-blindness condition (alexithymia) and autism-like personality traits.
Chapter 1 provides a review of the current literature surrounding emotion perception in ASD, focussing specifically on evidence for, and against, atypical recognition of facial expressions of emotion in ASD.
The experimental chapters presented in this thesis (Chapters 2, 3 and 4) explore FER in adults with ASD, children with ASD and in the wider, typical population. In Chapter 2, a novel psychophysics method is presented along with its use in assessing FER in individuals with ASD. Chapter 2 also presents a research experiment in adults with ASD, indicating that FER is similar compared to typically developed (TD) adults in terms of the facial muscle components (action units; AUs), the intensity levels and the timing components utilised from the stimuli. In addition to this, individual differences within groups are shown, indicating that better FER ability is associated with lower levels of ASD symptoms in adults with ASD (measured using the ADOS; Lord et al. (2000)) and lower levels of autism-like personality traits in TD adults (measured using the Autism-Spectrum Quotient; (S. Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, and Clubley, 2001)). Similarly, Chapter 3 indicates that children with ASD are not significantly different from TD children in their perception of facial expressions of emotion as assessed using AU, intensity and timing components. Chapter 4 assesses the contribution of alexithymia and autism-like personality traits (AQ) to FER ability in a sample of individuals from the typical population. This chapter provides evidence against the idea that alexithymia levels predict FER ability over and above AQ levels.
The importance of the aforementioned results are discussed in Chapter 5 in the context of previous research in the field, and in relation to established theoretical approaches to FER in ASD. In particular, arguments are made that FER cannot be conceptualised under an ‘all-or-nothing’ framework, which has been implied for a number of years (Harms et al., 2010). Instead it is proposed that FER is a multifaceted skill in individuals with ASD, which varies according to an individual’s skillset. Lastly, limitations of the research presented in this thesis are discussed in addition to suggestions for future research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Autism, ASD, facial, expression, perception, emotion.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Simmons, Dr. David and Schyns, Prof. Philippe
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Dr Kirsty Ainsworth
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-8287
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2017 07:57
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2017 09:05
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/8287

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