Autism Spectrum Disorder and emotion recognition

Author: Marie Georgopoulos

Georgopoulos, Marie, 2021 Autism Spectrum Disorder and emotion recognition, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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While it has been previously suggested that adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have impairments with recognising and reacting to the emotions of others, existing research has been clouded by inconsistent findings. Given the conceivable connection of emotion recognition and reaction with effective social reciprocity and communication, clarity in this area is important for practical, research and clinical understanding.

Key questions remaining unanswered include how ASD and typically developing adults’ emotional inferences are influenced by different stimulus types, response formats, and specific emotions or groups of emotions. Questions also exist regarding ASD adults’ ability to react to the emotions of others in ways that are considered appropriate. These are issues which the study within this thesis attempted to address.

I examined emotion recognition abilities across three stimulus types (static, dynamic and social), two response formats (free-report and multiple-choice) and 12 emotions (6 basic and 6 complex) in samples of autistic and (n= 63) and typically developing (n= 67) adults. I also examined individuals’ ability to provide appropriate reactions to the emotions of others across the 12 emotions. This study also examined emotion recognition latency and metacognitive monitoring of emotion recognition and reaction responses. Performance across these measures was examined while controlling for individuals’ verbal and perspective taking abilities.

The findings showed that regardless of stimulus type, response format and emotion, ASD individuals were less accurate, slower and less confident than typically developing participants in the recognition of emotions. ASD individuals also reacted less appropriately than typically developing participants to others’ emotions, and were slower and less confident when doing so, regardless of emotion type. Remarkably, ASD and typically developing groups did not differ at all in terms of their metacognitive awareness of their limitations. Possible reasons for group differences and implications of any deficits found are discussed, along with limitations and future research directions.

Keywords: Autism, ASD, Emotion Recognition, Stimulus type, Response format, Latency, Confidence, Reaction

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Emeritus Professor Neil Brewer