Evaluation of faces is an important dimension of social relationships. A degraded sensitivity to facial perceptual cues might contribute to atypical social interactions in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The current study investigated whether face based social judgment is atypical in ASD and if so, whether it could be related to a degraded sensitivity to facial perceptual cues. Individuals with ASD (n = 33) and IQ- and age-matched controls (n = 38) were enrolled in this study. Watching a series of photographic or synthetic faces, they had to judge them for "kindness". In synthetic stimuli, the amount of perceptual cues available could be either large or small. We observed that social judgment was atypical in the ASD group on photographic stimuli, but, contrarily to the prediction based on the degraded sensitivity hypothesis, analyses on synthetic stimuli found a similar performance and a similar effect of the amount of perceptual cues in both groups. Further studies on perceptual differences between photographs and synthetic pictures of faces might help understand atypical social judgment in ASD.
Keywords: Autism; Face processing; Perception; Social cognition; Social judgment.