• Processing of Spontaneous Emotional Responses in Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders Effect of Stimulus Type

      Cassidy, S.; Mitchell, Peter; Chapman, P.; Ropar, D. (2015-10)
      Recent research has shown that adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have difficulty interpreting others' emotional responses, in order to work out what actually happened to them. It is unclear what underlies this difficulty; important cues may be missed from fast paced dynamic stimuli, or spontaneous emotional responses may be too complex for those with ASD to successfully recognise. To explore these possibilities, 17 adolescents and adults with ASD and 17 neurotypical controls viewed 21 videos and pictures of peoples' emotional responses to gifts (chocolate, a handmade novelty or Monopoly money), then inferred what gift the person received and the emotion expressed by the person while eye movements were measured. Participants with ASD were significantly more accurate at distinguishing who received a chocolate or homemade gift from static (compared to dynamic) stimuli, but significantly less accurate when inferring who received Monopoly money from static (compared to dynamic) stimuli. Both groups made similar emotion attributions to each gift in both conditions (positive for chocolate, feigned positive for homemade and confused for Monopoly money). Participants with ASD only made marginally significantly fewer fixations to the eyes of the face, and face of the person than typical controls in both conditions. Results suggest adolescents and adults with ASD can distinguish subtle emotion cues for certain emotions (genuine from feigned positive) when given sufficient processing time, however, dynamic cues are informative for recognising emotion blends (e.g. smiling in confusion). This indicates difficulties processing complex emotion responses in ASD.
    • Seven- to 11-Year-Olds' Developing Ability to Recognize Natural Facial Expressions of Basic Emotions

      Kang, K.; Anthoney, L.; Mitchell, Peter (2017-09)
      Being able to recognize facial expressions of basic emotions is of great importance to social development. However, we still know surprisingly little about children’s developing ability to interpret emotions that are expressed dynamically, naturally, and subtly, despite real-life expressions having such appearance in the vast majority of cases. The current research employs a new technique of capturing dynamic, subtly expressed natural emotional displays (happy, sad, angry, shocked, and disgusted). Children aged 7, 9, and 11 years (and adults) were systematically able to discriminate each emotional display from alternatives in a five-way choice. Children were most accurate in identifying the expression of happiness and were also relatively accurate in identifying the expression of sadness; they were far less accurate than adults in identifying shocked and disgusted. Children who performed well academically also tended to be the most accurate in recognizing expressions, and this relationship maintained independently of chronological age. Generally, the findings testify to a well-developed ability to recognize very subtle naturally occurring expressions of emotions.