Accuracy and response time for the recognition of facial emotions in a large sample of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
The empirical literature has presented inconsistent evidence for deficits in the recognition of basic emotion expressions in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which may be due to the focus on research with relatively small sample sizes. Additionally, it is proposed that although children with ASD may correctly identify emotion expression they rely on more deliberate, more time-consuming strategies in order to accurately recognize emotion expressions when compared to typically developing children. In the current study, we examine both emotion recognition accuracy and response time in a large sample of children, and explore the moderating influence of verbal ability on these findings. The sample consisted of 86 children with ASD (M age = 10.65) and 114 typically developing children (M age = 10.32) between 7 and 13 years of age. All children completed a pre-test (emotion word–word matching), and test phase consisting of basic emotion recognition, whereby they were required to match a target emotion expression to the correct emotion word; accuracy and response time were recorded. Verbal IQ was controlled for in the analyses. We found no evidence of a systematic deficit in emotion recognition accuracy or response time for children with ASD, controlling for verbal ability. However, when controlling for children’s accuracy in word–word matching, children with ASD had significantly lower emotion recognition accuracy when compared to typically developing children. The findings suggest that the social impairments observed in children with ASD are not the result of marked deficits in basic emotion recognition accuracy or longer response times. However, children with ASD may be relying on other perceptual skills (such as advanced word–word matching) to complete emotion recognition tasks at a similar level as typically developing children.