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      Correlations between facial emotion recognition and cognitive flexibility in autism spectrum disorder

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          Various studies have examined the role of executive functions in autism, but there is a lack of research in the current literature on cognitive flexibility in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The purpose of this study is to investigate whether cognitive flexibility deficits could be related to facial emotion recognition deficits in ASD.


          In total, 20 children with ASD and 20 typically developing children, matched for intelligence quotient and gender, were examined both in facial emotion recognition tasks and in cognitive flexibility tasks through the dimensional change card sorting task.


          Despite cognitive flexibility not being a core deficit in ASD, impaired cognitive flexibility is evident in the present research. Results show that cognitive flexibility is related to facial emotion recognition and support the hypothesis of an executive specific deficit in children with autism.

          Research limitations/implications

          One of the limit is the use of just one cognitive test to measure cognitive flexibility and facial recognition. This could be important to be taken into account in the new research. By increasing the number of common variables assessing cognitive flexibility, this will allow for a better comparison between studies to characterize impairment in cognitive flexibility in ASD.

          Practical implications

          Investigating impairment in cognitive flexibility may help to plan training intervention based on the induction of flexibility.

          Social implications

          If the authors implement cognitive flexibility people with ASD can have also an effect on their social behavior and overcome the typical and repetitive behaviors that are the hallmark of ASD.


          The originality is to relate cognitive flexibility deficits to facial emotion.

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          Most cited references 42

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          Early social attention impairments in autism: social orienting, joint attention, and attention to distress.

          This study investigated social attention impairments in autism (social orienting, joint attention, and attention to another's distress) and their relations to language ability. Three- to four-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 72), 3- to 4-year-old developmentally delayed children (n = 34), and 12- to 46-month-old typically developing children (n = 39), matched on mental age, were compared on measures of social orienting, joint attention, and attention to another's distress. Children with autism performed significantly worse than the comparison groups in all of these domains. Combined impairments in joint attention and social orienting were found to best distinguish young children with ASD from those without ASD. Structural equation modeling indicated that joint attention was the best predictor of concurrent language ability. Social orienting and attention to distress were indirectly related to language through their relations with joint attention. These results help to clarify the nature of social attention impairments in autism, offer clues to developmental mechanisms, and suggest targets for early intervention. ((c) 2004 APA, all rights reserved)
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            Visual Fixation Patterns During Viewing of Naturalistic Social Situations as Predictors of Social Competence in Individuals With Autism

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              Abnormal ventral temporal cortical activity during face discrimination among individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome.

              Recognition of individual faces is an integral part of both interpersonal interactions and successful functioning within a social group. Therefore, it is of considerable interest that individuals with autism and related conditions have selective deficits in face recognition (sparing nonface object recognition). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study face and subordinate-level object perception in 14 high-functioning individuals with autism or Asperger syndrome (the autism group), in comparison with 2 groups of matched normal controls (normal control group ] [NC1] and normal control group 2 [NC2]) (n = 14 for each). Regions of interest (ROIs) were defined in NC1 and then applied in comparisons between NC2 and the autism group. Regions of interest were also defined in NC2 and then applied to comparisons between NC1 and the autism group as a replication study. In the first set of comparisons, we found significant task x group interactions for the size of activation in the right fusiform gyrus (FG) and right inferior temporal gyri (ITG). Post hoc analyses showed that during face (but not object) discrimination, the autism group had significantly greater activation than controls in the right ITG and less activation of the right FG. The replication study showed again that the autism group used the ITG significantly more for processing faces than the control groups, but for these analyses, the effect was now on the left side. Greater ITG activation was the pattern found in both control groups during object processing. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders demonstrate a pattern of brain activity during face discrimination that is consistent with feature-based strategies that are more typical of nonface object perception.

                Author and article information

                Advances in Autism
                Emerald Publishing
                11 May 2020
                20 July 2020
                : 6
                : 3
                : 195-204
                Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Messina , Messina, Italy
                Research and Biomedical Innovation Institute , National Research Center, Messina, Italy
                Division of Child Neurology and Psychiatry, G. Martino Hospital, University of Messina , Messina, Italy
                Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Messina , Messina, Italy
                Author notes
                Tindara Caprì can be contacted at:
                643084 AIA-02-2019-0005.pdf AIA-02-2019-0005
                © Emerald Publishing Limited
                Page count
                Figures: 3, Tables: 2, Equations: 0, References: 43, Pages: 1, Words: 5438
                research-article, Research paper
                cat-HSC, Health & social care
                cat-LID, Learning & intellectual disabilities
                Custom metadata
                Web-ready article package


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