Social Perception Deficits in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
62.22, Wednesday, May 15, 10:45 am - 12:45 pm, Royal Ballroom 4-5
Kami Koldewyn1, Sarah Weigelt1, Nancy Kanwisher1; 1Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Both children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are widely claimed to perform worse than their typically developing (TD) peers in identifying people from their facial appearance. Despite a substantial literature on face perception in ASD, two important questions remain. First, is the recognition deficit in ASD specific to faces or is it also evident in other visual categories (i.e., is it domain specific)? Second, does the recognition deficit in ASD reflect a greater impairment in face memory than in face perception (i.e. is it process specific)? Here, we address these two questions by testing 47 children with ASD, aged 5 to 12, and an age and IQ-matched group of TD children on one task testing memory and one testing perceptual discrimination on the same stimuli across four stimulus categories: faces, human bodies, cars and scenes. Children with ASD performed worse than their matched TD comparison group on face and body memory, but not car or scene memory. However, only face memory performance was correlated with autism severity, strongly suggesting that it may be an important part of the ASD phenotype. Perceptual discrimination deficits were not significant for faces, suggesting that the face recognition deficit reflects a specific problem with face memory, not face perception. While no perception deficits were seen in non-social stimuli (cars, scenes), children with ASD did show body perception deficits, suggesting children with ASD may have more general deficits in social perception. Our results indicate that the face recognition deficit in ASD is domain specific (to social stimuli), and also process specific (to memory but not perception).