Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2018) 48:844–852
Speciﬁc Patterns of Emotion Recognition from Faces in Children
with ASD: Results of a Cross-Modal Matching Paradigm
· Ilanit Gordon
· Keren Fichman
· Giora Keinan
Published online: 21 November 2017
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017
Children with ASD show emotion recognition diﬃculties, as part of their social communication deﬁcits. We examined facial
emotion recognition (FER) in intellectually disabled children with ASD and in younger typically developing (TD) controls,
matched on mental age. Our emotion-matching paradigm employed three diﬀerent modalities: facial, vocal and verbal.
Results conﬁrmed overall FER deﬁcits in ASD. Compared to the TD group, children with ASD had the poorest performance
in recognizing surprise and anger in comparison to happiness and sadness, and struggled with face–face matching, com-
pared to voice-face and word-face combinations. Performance in the voice-face cross-modal recognition task was related to
adaptive communication. These ﬁndings highlight the speciﬁc face processing deﬁcit, and the relative merit of cross-modal
integration in children with ASD.
Keywords Autism spectrum disorder · Facial emotion recognition · Cross-modal integration
An ability to detect and accurately recognize a displayed
emotion is considered a basic building block of social devel-
opment (Ekman 1992; Feldman-Barrett 2006; Izard 2007).
Emotion recognition involves the processing of several types
of stimuli, such as facial expression, vocal intonation, body
language, content of verbalization, as well as the complex
integration of all of the above in dynamic contexts (Herba
and Phillips 2004; Walker-Andrews 1997). In typical devel-
opment, emotion recognition emerges gradually throughout
childhood and becomes more accurate and eﬃcient with
time. The ﬁrst emotion recognized accurately and consist-
ently is usually happiness followed by sadness and anger and
then by fear and surprise (Camras and Allison 1985; Herba
et al. 2006). It has been shown that by 3–5 years of age, chil-
dren already rely heavily on faces as cues for emotion rec-
ognition (Hoﬀner and Badzinski 1989). This developmental
track is signiﬁcantly hampered in children with Autism spec-
trum disorder (ASD).
ASD is a pervasive neurodevelopmental condition,
characterized by core deﬁcits in social communication and
restricted and repetitive behavior patterns (American Psy-
chiatric Association 2013). Deﬁcits in understanding others’
emotional and mental states are considered a core character-
istic of ASD (Hobson 1993; Karmiloﬀ-Smith et al. 1995).
Since the ability to recognize and understand emotion is a
basic building block of theory-of-mind and social function-
ing, many research studies have been dedicated to exploring
emotion recognition in individuals with ASD (for a review,
see Uljarevic and Hamilton 2013).
Although the clinical deﬁnitions and experimental evi-
dence point to a global emotion recognition deﬁcit in ASD
(Feldman et al. 1993; Gross 2008), several studies also argue
for emotion-speciﬁc deﬁcits (Ashwin et al. 2006; Boraston
et al. 2007). For instance, Bal et al. (2010) found that chil-
dren with ASD were slower in recognizing emotions and
selectively made more errors in detecting anger. Other stud-
ies have shown speciﬁc dysfunction in ASD in recogniz-
ing sadness (Boraston et al. 2007), disgust (Ashwin et al.
2006; Wright et al. 2008) and fear (Humphreys et al. 2007).
Finally, studies have shown speciﬁc diﬃculties to detect
and recognize surprise in children with ASD (Baron-Cohen
et al. 1993; Jones et al. 2011), which were interpreted in
* Ofer Golan
Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan,
School of Psychological Sciences, Tel-Aviv University,