Atypical emotional anticipation in high-functioning autism

Palumbo, Letizia and Burnett, Holly Giselle and Jellema, Tjeerd (2015) Atypical emotional anticipation in high-functioning autism. Molecular Autism, 6. ISSN 2040-2392

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"Background: Understanding and anticipating others’ mental or emotional states relies on the processing of social
cues, such as dynamic facial expressions. Individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA) may process these cues
differently from individuals with typical development (TD) and purportedly use a ‘mechanistic’ rather than a
‘mentalistic’ approach, involving rule- and contingency-based interpretations of the stimuli. The study primarily
aimed at examining whether the judgments of facial expressions made by individuals with TD and HFA would be
similarly affected by the immediately preceding dynamic perceptual history of that face. A second aim was to
explore possible differences in the mechanisms underpinning the perceptual judgments in the two groups.
Methods: Twenty-two adults with HFA and with TD, matched for age, gender and IQ, were tested in three
experiments in which dynamic, ‘ecologically valid’ offsets of happy and angry facial expressions were presented.
Participants evaluated the expression depicted in the last frame of the video clip by using a 5-point scale ranging
from slightly angry via neutral to slightly happy. Specific experimental manipulations prior to the final facial
expression of the video clip allowed examining contributions of bottom-up mechanisms (sequential contrast/
context effects and representational momentum) and a top-down mechanism (emotional anticipation) to
distortions in the perception of the final expression.
Results: In experiment 1, the two groups showed a very similar perceptual bias for the final expression of joy-to-neutral
and anger-to-neutral videos (overshoot bias). In experiment 2, a change in the actor’s identity during the clip removed
the bias in the TD group, but not in the HFA group. In experiment 3, neutral-to-joy/anger-to-neutral sequences generated
an undershoot bias (opposite to the overshoot) in the TD group, whereas no bias was observed in the HFA group.
Conclusions: We argue that in TD individuals the perceptual judgments of other’s facial expressions were underpinned
by an automatic emotional anticipation mechanism. In contrast, HFA individuals were primarily influenced by visual
features, most notably the contrast between the start and end expressions, or pattern extrapolation. We critically discuss
the proposition that automatic emotional anticipation may be induced by motor simulation of the perceived dynamic
facial expressions and discuss its implications for autism."

Item Type: Article
Additional Information and Comments: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated. Include following link in Official url field:
Keywords: High-functioning autism (HFA) Dynamic facial expressions Perceptual distortions Prediction Anticipation Embodied simulation Theory of mind
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Science > Psychology
Depositing User: Pauline Bray
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2016 09:37
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2016 14:45

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