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Separate Process for Face Identity, Expression in Autism

Two aspects of face reading are distinct in those with social development disorders

TUESDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- For people with autism, Asperger syndrome or other social development disorders (SDDs), the process of recognizing familiar faces and interpreting facial expressions are distinct, according to a study published in the Nov. 22 issue of Neurology. A deficit in interpreting facial expressions may be related to emotional processing, the authors suggest.

Rebecca L. Hefter, B.Sc., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues conducted a study of 26 adults diagnosed with various SDDs. They analyzed each subject's ability to discriminate between famous and anonymous faces, perceive emotional expression from facial and non-facial cues and the relationship between these two abilities.

Perception of facial identity was not related to either facial or non-facial expression, but processing facial and non-facial expression were linked. Subjects who had impaired facial identity processing skills were able to perceive facial expression as well as those who did not have problems processing facial identity.

"The results argue against hypotheses that the social dysfunction in SDD causes a generalized failure to acquire face-processing skills," the authors conclude. "Our results suggest that deficits in perceiving facial expression in SDD are linked to emotional processing rather than face processing."

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