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Inferential Emotion Tracking reveals impaired context-based emotion processing in individuals with high Autism Quotient scores

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Sci Rep. 2023 May 19;13(1):8093. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-35371-6.


Emotion perception is essential for successful social interactions and maintaining long-term relationships with friends and family. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience social communication deficits and have reported difficulties in facial expression recognition. However, emotion recognition depends on more than just processing face expression; context is critically important to correctly infer the emotions of others. Whether context-based emotion processing is impacted in those with Autism remains unclear. Here, we used a recently developed context-based emotion perception task, called Inferential Emotion Tracking (IET), and investigated whether individuals who scored high on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) had deficits in context-based emotion perception. Using 34 videos (including Hollywood movies, home videos, and documentaries), we tested 102 participants as they continuously tracked the affect (valence and arousal) of a blurred-out, invisible character. We found that individual differences in Autism Quotient scores were more strongly correlated with IET task accuracy than they are with traditional face emotion perception tasks. This correlation remained significant even when controlling for potential covarying factors, general intelligence, and performance on traditional face perception tasks. These findings suggest that individuals with ASD may have impaired perception of contextual information, it reveals the importance of developing ecologically relevant emotion perception tasks in order to better assess and treat ASD, and it provides a new direction for further research on context-based emotion perception deficits in ASD.

PMID:37208368 | PMC:PMC10198990 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-35371-6

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