The purpose of this paper is to assess emotional response to music and its EEG correlates in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Six musical fragments eliciting emotional states of calmness/serenity, sadness and anxiety/fear were presented to children with ASD ( n=21, aged 5–9) and typically developing (TD) peers ( n=21), while 19-channel EEG was recorded. Emotion self-reports were assessed using visual analogous scales.
Children with ASD assessed most music fragments similarly to their TD peers, with likelihood of EEG oscillatory patterns closely corresponding to emotion self-reports. Somewhat contrary to the expectations, a major difference was observed for one fragment only, which was identified as sad by TD children and adult neurotypical raters, but found “angry and frightening” by children with ASD, with EEG oscillatory response confirming greater cortical activation, particularly for the right hemisphere.
The data suggest that children with ASD may have emotional reactions to music either similar or highly aberrant compared to TD peers, rather than having general difficulties in assessing emotions. The data should be confirmed by further studies, ideally involving high functioning adult autists.
The findings may increase the understanding of autists’ difficulties in perceiving prosodic nuances and reading emotional cues. The results can be taken into consideration when developing music-based interventions.