Ensemble perception of emotions in autistic and typical children and adolescents.

Themis Karaminis, Louise Neil, Catherine Manning, Marco Turi, Chiara Florentini, David Burr, Elizabeth Pellicano

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Abstract

Ensemble perception, the ability to assess automatically the summary of large amounts of informationpresented in visual scenes, is available early in typical development. This ability might be compromisedin autistic children, who are thought to present limitations in maintaining summary statistics representa-tions for the recent history of sensory input. Here we examined ensemble perception of facial emotionalexpressions in 35 autistic children, 30 age- and ability-matched typical children and 25 typical adults.Participants received three tasks: a) an ‘ensemble’ emotion discrimination task; b) a baseline (single-face)emotion discrimination task; and c) a facial expression identification task. Children performed worse thanadults on all three tasks. Unexpectedly, autistic and typical children were, on average, indistinguishablein their precision and accuracy on all three tasks. Computational modelling suggested that, on average,autistic and typical children used ensemble-encoding strategies to a similar extent; but ensemble percep-tion was related to non-verbal reasoning abilities in autistic but not in typical children. Eye-movementdata also showed no group differences in the way children attended to the stimuli. Our combined find-ings suggest that the abilities of autistic and typical children for ensemble perception of emotions arecomparable on average.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-62
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Volume24
Early online date16 Jan 2017
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jan 2017

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Keywords

  • Ensemble perception
  • Autism
  • Summary statistics
  • Facial expressions
  • Emotions

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