Face identity recognition in autism spectrum disorders: a review of behavioral studies

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Mar;36(3):1060-84. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.12.008. Epub 2011 Dec 23.


Face recognition--the ability to recognize a person from their facial appearance--is essential for normal social interaction. Face recognition deficits have been implicated in the most common disorder of social interaction: autism. Here we ask: is face identity recognition in fact impaired in people with autism? Reviewing behavioral studies we find no strong evidence for a qualitative difference in how facial identity is processed between those with and without autism: markers of typical face identity recognition, such as the face inversion effect, seem to be present in people with autism. However, quantitatively--i.e., how well facial identity is remembered or discriminated--people with autism perform worse than typical individuals. This impairment is particularly clear in face memory and in face perception tasks in which a delay intervenes between sample and test, and less so in tasks with no memory demand. Although some evidence suggests that this deficit may be specific to faces, further evidence on this question is necessary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Eye
  • Face*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*