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. 2013 Apr;51(5):1002-10.
doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.02.009. Epub 2013 Feb 24.

Multilevel Alterations in the Processing of Audio-Visual Emotion Expressions in Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Multilevel Alterations in the Processing of Audio-Visual Emotion Expressions in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Geneviève Charbonneau et al. Neuropsychologia. .

Abstract

The abilities to recognize and integrate emotions from another person's facial and vocal expressions are fundamental cognitive skills involved in the effective regulation of social interactions. Deficits in such abilities have been suggested as a possible source for certain atypical social behaviors manifested by persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In the present study, we assessed the recognition and integration of emotional expressions in ASD using a validated set of ecological stimuli comprised of dynamic visual and auditory (non-verbal) vocal clips. Autistic participants and typically developing controls (TD) were asked to discriminate between clips depicting expressions of disgust and fear presented either visually, auditorily or audio-visually. The group of autistic participants was less efficient to discriminate emotional expressions across all conditions (unimodal and bimodal). Moreover, they necessitated a higher signal-to-noise ratio for the discrimination of visual or auditory presentations of disgust versus fear expressions. These results suggest an altered sensitivity to emotion expressions in this population that is not modality-specific. In addition, the group of autistic participants benefited from exposure to bimodal information to a lesser extent than did the TD group, indicative of a decreased multisensory gain in this population. These results are the first to compellingly demonstrate joint alterations for both the perception and the integration of multisensory emotion expressions in ASD.

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