An ERP Study of Autistic Traits and Emotional Recognition in Non-Clinical Adolescence


Autistic-like traits are characterized by impaired emotional recognition and proposed to be continuously distributed in the entire population. In the non-clinical population, however, the relationship between the autistic-like traits and the behavioral/physiological patterns of emotion processing ability has not been examined. In this study, we investigated the autistic traits (even including moderate-AQ participants) of typically developing adolescents, measured with the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), and the spectral property of their behavioral and physiological responses during emotion-discrimination tasks. Participants were screened and divided into three groups (high-, moderate-, and low-AQ groups) according to AQ scores. Each group participated in the subsequent emotion-discrimination (using angry, happy and neutral facial expressions) experiment involving event-related potentials (ERPs). The results indicated that high-AQ group displayed significant different patterns (lower late positive potentials) of the emotional processing involved in behavioral and physiological tasks compared with the moderate-AQ group. In contrast, their behavioral and physiological patterns were comparable to those shown in the low-AQ group. Thus, in the non-clinical adolescents, the spectrum of emotion recognition patterns might show a non-linear relationship with AQ scores, even suggesting that AQ could not be considered as a simple index for emotional processing.

Share and Cite:

Nixima, K. , Fujimori, M. & Okanoya, K. (2013). An ERP Study of Autistic Traits and Emotional Recognition in Non-Clinical Adolescence. Psychology, 4, 515-519. doi: 10.4236/psych.2013.46073.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Almeida, R. A., Dickinson, J. E., Maybery, M. T., Badcock, J. C., & Badcock, D. R. (2010). A new step towards understanding Embedded Figures Test performance in the autism spectrum: The radical frequency search task. Neuropsychologia, 48, 374-381. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.09.024
[2] American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
[3] Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001). The Autism-spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 5-17. doi:10.1023/A:1005653411471
[4] Celani, G., Battacchi, M. W., & Arcidiacono, L. (1999). The understanding of the emotional meaning of facial expressions in people with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 57-65. doi:10.1023/A:1025970600181
[5] Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.
[6] Dawson, G., Webb, S. J., Carver, L., Panagiotides, H., & McPartland, J. (2004). Young children with autism show atypical brain responses to fearful versus neutral facial expressions of emotion. Developmental Science, 7, 340-359. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2004.00352.x
[7] Dawson, G., Webb, S. J., & McPartland, J. (2005). Understanding the nature of face processing impairment in autism: Insights from behavioral and electrophysiological studies. Developmental Neuropsychology, 27, 403-424. doi:10.1207/s15326942dn2703_6
[8] Eimer, M., & Holmes, A. (2007). Event-related brain potential correlates of emotional face processing. Neuropsychologia, 45, 15-31. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.04.022
[9] Eimer, M., & Holmes, A. (2003). The role of spatial attention in the processing of facial expression: An ERP study of rapid brain responses to six basic emotions. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, 97-110. doi:10.3758/CABN.3.2.97
[10] Golan, O., Baron-Cohen, S., Hill, J. J., & Golan, Y. (2006). The “reading the mind in films” task: Complex emotion recognition in adults with and without autism spectrum conditions. Social Neuroscience, 1, 111-123. doi:10.1080/17470910600980986
[11] Golan, O., Baron-Cohen, S. & Golan, Y. (2008). The “reading the mind in films” task [child version]: Complex emotion recognition in adults with and without autism spectrum conditions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 1534-1541. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0533-7
[12] Grinter, E. J., Maybery, M. T., Van Beek, P. L., Pellicano, E., Badcock, J. C., & Badcock, D. R. (2009). Global visual processing and self-rated autistic-like traits. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1278-1290. doi:10.1007/s10803-009-0740-5
[13] Hubl, D., Bolte, S., Feineis-Matthews, S., Lanfermann, H., Federspiel, A., Strik, W., et al. (2003). Functional imbalance of visual pathways indicates alternative face processing strategies in autism. Neurology, 61, 1232-1237. doi:10.1212/01.WNL.0000091862.22033.1A
[14] Itier, R. J., & Taylor, M. J. (2002). Inversion and contrast polarity reversal affect both encoding and recognition processes of unfamiliar faces: A repetition study using ERPs. NeuroImage, 15, 353-372. doi:10.1006/nimg.2001.0982
[15] Poljac, E., Poljac, E., & Wagemans, J. (2012). Reduced accuracy and sensitivity in the perception of emotional facial expressions in individuals with high autism spectrum traits. Autism, E-published ahead of print. doi:10.1177/1362361312455703
[16] Puzzo, I., Cooper, N. R., Vetter, P., & Russo, R. (2010). EEG activation differences in the pre-motor cortex and supplementary motor area between normal individuals with high and low traits of autism. Brain Research, 1342, 104-110. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2010.04.060
[17] Schupp, H. T., Flaisch, T., Stockburger, & J., Junghofer, M. (2006). Emotion and attention: Event-related brain potential studies. Progress in Brain Research, 156, 31-51. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(06)56002-9
[18] Schupp, H. T., Ohman, A., Junghofer, M., Weike, A. I., Stockburger, J., & Hamm, A. O. (2004). The facilitated processing of threatening faces: An ERP analysis. Emotion, 4, 189-200. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.4.2.189
[19] Taylor, M. J. (2002). Non-spatial attentional effects on P1. Clinical Neurophysiology, 113, 1903-1908. doi:10.1016/S1388-2457(02)00309-7
[20] Wakabayashi, A., Tojo, Y., Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2004). The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) Japanese version: Evidence from high-functioning clinical group and normal adults. Shinrigaku Kenkyu Japanese Journal of Psychology, 75, 78-84. doi:10.4992/jjpsy.75.78
[21] Wong, T. K. W., Fung, P. C. W., Chua, S. E., & McAlonan, G. M. (2008). Abnormal spatiotemporal processing of emotional facial expressions in childhood autism: Dipole source analysis of event-related potentials. European Journal of Neuroscience, 28, 407-416. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2008.06328.x
[22] Wong, T. K. W., Fung, P. C. W., McAlonan, G. M., & Chua, S. E. (2009). Spatiotemporal dipole source localization of face processing ERPs in adolescents: A preliminary study. Behavioral and Brain Function, 5, 16. doi:10.1186/1744-9081-5-16
[23] World Health Organization (1992). The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioral disorders: Clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.