Facial Affect Recognition in Autism, ADHD and Typical Development
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have been associated with explicit facial affect recognition (FAR) alterations, but comparative studies are scarce.
This study examined FAR accuracy and response times for overall and specific basic emotions FAR performance in whole face and eye-region stimuli.
FAR was assessed in carefully matched samples of participants with ASD (n=35), ADHD (n=32) and typical development (n=32), taking into account possibly mediating effects of attentional functions and social communication problem severity. Results: Compared to TD, the ASD group performed less accurate and showed longer response times for general and specific FAR in both types of stimuli, mostly driven by problems in neutral and happy face identification. There were few differences between ASD and ADHD, and no differences between ADHD and TD. Cognitive distractibility explained a substantial proportion of variance of FAR performance in ASD and ADHD. Social communication problem severity and cognitive impulsivity had no impact on FAR performance. Conclusions: Findings confirm FAR alterations in ASD, but not ADHD, and endorse mediating effects of certain attention functions. FAR training seems clinically meaningful in ASD. Future studies should include control for visual attention, facial configuration skills, use naturalistic FAR material and also investigate implicit FAR.
Partial correlations between cognitive distractibility and face and eye test FAR accuracy and response time were essentially null associations for the TD group (r =-08 to .07, p>.70), but partly significantly negative in ASD and ADHD. In ASD, face and eye FAR accuracy was negatively correlated with cognitive distractibility (r = -.34 & -.44, p<.04). In ADHD, face and eye FAR accuracy and eyes test response time was negatively correlated with cognitive distractibility (r = -.31 to -.33, p<.05). Eye and face FAR accuracy and speed correlated highly negatively in TD (r = -.66 & -.73, p<.001) and ASD (r = -.60 & -.76, p<.001), but not in ADHD (r = -.15 & -.16, p=.75). Interestingly, in the ASD group, performance on the eyes test correlated negatively quality of eye contact on the ADOS (r = -.38, p =.02).
In this study of explicit FAR, we found significant general and specific FAR difficulties in ASD for different stimuli regarding accuracy and response time, compared to TD, only few differences between ASD and ADHD, and no differences between ADHD and TD. Cognitive distractibility explained a substantial proportion of variance of FAR performance in ASD and ADHD. Future studies should aim to investigate FAR in ASD and ADHD using a model also integrating visual attention, facial configuration skills as predictors as well as naturalistic FAR material and implicit FAR as dependent measures.