Research on recognizing facial emotion expressions could change our understanding of autism

There’s a common perception that autistic individuals are poor at recognising others’ emotions and have little insight into how effectively they do so.

But autistic adults are only slightly less accurate at reading people’s facial emotions compared to their non-autistic peers, according to new Australian research.

Recent research published in two papers in the leading international journal Autism Research shows we may need to revise widely accepted notions that adults diagnosed with autism experience difficulties when it comes to recognising social emotions and have little insight into their processing of others’ face emotions.

63 people diagnosed with autism and 67 non-autistic adults (with IQs ranging from 85 to 143) participated in a Flinders University study, with participants taking part in 3- 5-hour sessions comparing their recognition of 12 human face emotion expressions such as anger and sadness.

Dr Marie Georgopoulos collected a wide range of data during the course of her PhD, with subsequent reanalyses by the research team providing the basis for a series of research articles.

The results could mean social difficulties linked with autism may actually reflect differences that only become apparent in certain social interactions or high-pressure scenarios, challenging the perspective that autistic adults can’t adequately read facial emotion expressions.

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