Emotional face recognition in autism and in cerebral visual impairments: In search for specificity

J Neuropsychol. 2021 Jun;15(2):235-252. doi: 10.1111/jnp.12221. Epub 2020 Sep 13.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by difficulties in the social domain, but also by hyper- and hypo-reactivity. Atypical visual behaviours and processing have often been observed. Nevertheless, several similar signs are also identified in other clinical conditions including cerebral visual impairments (CVI). In the present study, we investigated emotional face categorization in groups of children with ASD and CVI by comparing each group to typically developing individuals (TD) in two tasks. Stimuli were either non-filtered or filtered by low- and high-spatial frequencies (LSF and HSF). All participants completed the autism spectrum quotient score (AQ) and a complete neurovisual evaluation. The results show that while both clinical groups presented difficulties in the emotional face recognition tasks and atypical processing of filtered stimuli, they did not differ from one another. Additionally, autistic traits were observed in the CVI group and symmetrically, some visual disturbances were present in the ASD group as measured via the AQ score and a neurovisual evaluation, respectively. The present study suggests the relevance of comparing ASD to CVI by showing that emotional face categorization difficulties should not be solely considered as autism-specific but merit investigation for potential dysfunction of the visual processing neural network. These results are of interest in both clinical and research perspectives, indicating that systematic visual examination is warranted for individuals with ASD.

Keywords: autism; cerebral visual impairment; emotion; magnocellular pathway; spatial frequency; visual perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / complications
  • Autistic Disorder* / complications
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Facial Recognition*
  • Humans
  • Vision Disorders