Autistic Kids May Read People's Eyes
Study: Autistic Children May Be Able to Gauge Emotion From Facial Expression
WebMD News Archive
March 26, 2007 -- Autistic children may be able to read people's emotions
from their facial expressions, new research shows.
The eyes and mouth may be the facial areas that autistic kids pay the most
attention to, British autism researchers report in Child
Their findings counter previous studies showing that autism hampers
children's ability to interpret facial expressions.
Elisa Back worked on the study while earning her PhD at England's University
of Nottingham. Back is now a research fellow in psychology at England's
University of Birmingham.
Back and colleagues videotaped an actress as she made facial expressions for
emotions including surprise, worry, relief, and disapproval.
Back's team showed the video clips to 18 children with autism and 18
children without autism. All of the children were 10-15 years old.
After watching the clips, the children got a list of two emotions and picked
the emotion they had seen on the actress' face.
Reading Facial Expressions
The autistic children were able to gauge the actress' emotions from her
facial expressions, though not as accurately as the children without
The autistic children paid the most attention to the actress' eyes and
mouth, the study shows.
Next, the researchers digitally manipulated the clips to only show the
actress' eyes. In that test, all of the children were equally skilled at
reading the actress' expressions, regardless of autism.
"Previous findings show that children and adolescents with autism may
have difficulty reading mental states from facial expressions, but our results
suggest that this is not due to an inability to interpret information from the
eyes," Back says in a news release.
The study has some limits. The tests weren't timed, so the results don't
show whether autistic children were faster or slower than children without
autism in making their judgments.
Also, the results might have been different if the kids had to pick the
portrayed emotions without a list of choices, Back's team notes.