Objectives: 1) To compare the performance of children with HFA and children with typical development (TD) on a basic face processing task of affect selection. 2) To compare the correspondence between accuracy of affect selection and confidence in affect selection for HFA and TD children.
Methods: Twenty-eight HFA children and 25 TD children viewed 56 pictures of faces. The faces were revealed in a piecemeal fashion, and children were instructed to guess the affect of each face as quickly and accurately as possible and then rate their level of confidence in that affect selection. Half of the faces had an inverted orientation, and half of the faces had an upright orientation. For half of the faces, the eye region was revealed early and the mouth region was revealed late; for the other half of the faces, this order was reversed.
A two-level HLM model was used to examine the data, with face stimulus trials nested within persons. At Level 1, the variables confidence, face orientation, and order of facial features were examined as predictors of accuracy of affect selection. At Level 2, the variables diagnostic group, gender, verbal IQ, and age were examined as predictors of the intercept and slopes of the Level 1 model.
Results: At level 1, there was a significant effect of confidence on accuracy of affect selection, t(51) = 7.03, p < 0.01, such that as participants’ confidence level increased, the accuracy of their affect selection also increased. There was a significant effect of face orientation on accuracy of affect selection, t(2863) = -10.29, p < 0.01, such that participants were more likely to be accurate on upright faces than inverted faces. There was a significant effect of order of facial features on accuracy of affect selection, t(2863) = 3.38, p < 0.01, such that participants were more likely to be accurate when the mouth region of the face was revealed early than when the eye region was revealed early. At level 2, there was a significant effect of diagnostic group on the relation between confidence and accuracy, t(51) = -3.99, p < 0.01, such that TD participants with a one-unit increase in confidence were more likely to be accurate on their affect selection than HFA participants with a one-unit increase in confidence.
Conclusions: HFA children were just as accurate as TD children in identifying the affect of facial expressions. However, HFA children didn’t have the same degree of metacognitive awareness of the accuracy of their affect selections as TD children. These results suggest that teaching metacognitive awareness of social skills may be an important component of interventions, in addition to teaching the social skills themselves. The effectiveness of interventions with HFA children may improve by targeting both a particular skill and metacognitive awareness of that skill.