Reduced spontaneous facial mimicry in women with autistic traits

Biol Psychol. 2009 Mar;80(3):348-53. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2008.12.002. Epub 2008 Dec 24.


Deficits in empathizing and perspective taking are defining characteristics of autism-spectrum disorders. Converging evidence suggests that these socio-emotional abilities are rooted in basic mechanisms that subserve imitative behavior, and may vary with autistic traits across the population as a whole. We investigated this notion by assessing spontaneous and instructed mimicry of facial expressions in healthy male and female volunteers scoring extremely high or low on the autism-spectrum quotient questionnaire. Mimicry was recorded using electromyography of the corrugator supercilii and zygomaticus major. Results show that spontaneous mimicry in the corrugator supercilii was strongest in female participants with low AQ-scores. Mimicry in the zygomaticus major, and in the instructed facial mimicry condition, did not differ between groups. These findings indicate that the degree to which individuals exhibit spontaneous mimicry may vary as a function of both gender and autistic traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires