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ASPartOfMe
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28 Apr 2021, 3:10 am

Brains of individuals with autism successfully encode facial emotions, study reveals

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A study that tested neural activity in the brains of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) reveals that they successfully encode facial emotions in their neural signals – and they do so about as well as those without ASD. Led by researchers at Stony Brook University, the research suggests that the difficulties ASD individuals have reading facial emotions arise from problems in translating facial emotion information they have successfully encoded, not because their brains fail to do so in the first place. The findings are published early online in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

According to Matthew D. Lerner, PhD, Senior Author and Associate Professor of Psychology Psychiatry & Pediatrics in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, this electroencephalogram (EEG) imaging study allowed the researchers to test a fundamental question about autism that has not yet been clearly addressed: Are the challenges in emotion recognition due to the emotional information not being encoded in the brain in the first place, or are they accurately encoded and just not deployed?

“Our findings indicate the latter part of that question appears to the be the more likely explanation for why many autistic individuals struggle to read facial emotions. Particularly now, when mask-wearing is pervasive and everyone has less facial emotion information available to them in daily life, it is especially important to understand how, when, and for whom struggles in reading these emotions emerge – and also when we may be misunderstanding the nature of these struggles."

The study involved a total of 192 individuals of different ages nationwide whose neural signals were recorded when viewing many facial emotions. The team used a discriminative and contemporary machine learning approach called Deep Convolutional Neural Networks to classify facial emotions. The machine learning approach included an algorithm that enabled the researchers to examine the EEG activity of individuals with and without ASD while they were watching faces and decoding what emotions they saw. The algorithm in turn could indicate for each individual face what emotion the person was viewing – essentially, to try to map the neural patterns that the brains of participants were using to decode emotions.

According to the authors, the findings have major implications on how individuals with ASD process emotions and for developing new types of interventions to help improve ASD individuals' facial emotion assessments of other people.

"Specifically, many interventions try to help people with ASD to compensate for not understanding emotions – essentially, they are emotion recognition prosthetics. However, our findings suggest that these approaches may not be helpful, and rather we should focus on capitalizing on and reinforcing their intact encoding of emotions," adds Dr. Lerner.


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GodzillaWoman
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30 Apr 2021, 3:16 pm

ASPartOfMe wrote:
A study that tested neural activity in the brains of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) reveals that they successfully encode facial emotions in their neural signals – and they do so about as well as those without ASD. Led by researchers at Stony Brook University, the research suggests that the difficulties ASD individuals have reading facial emotions arise from problems in translating facial emotion information they have successfully encoded, not because their brains fail to do so in the first place.


Wow, this makes a lot of sense. Generally when I am trying to read someone's face, it's like I am Sherlock scanning a room for clues (contracted eyebrows, narrowed nostrils, compressed lips = disgust/anger???) It takes several seconds (vs. a neurotypical's ability to read expressions in < 1 second). Since most people change expressions after a second or two, that means I fall behind.

I find it easier to read actors' expressions on TV/movies than in real life. My theory is that an actor is trying to CONVEY emotion while a real person may be trying to CONCEAL an emotion. I'm not sure if this means an actor is more obvious, holds the expression longer, or just less ambiguous. Any actors out there that can comment?


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30 Apr 2021, 3:36 pm

I don't have much trouble with decoding facial expressions. It's hard to explain most facial expressions, but I just recognise them without having to consciously think. I'm more sensitive to tone of voice though.


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kraftiekortie
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30 Apr 2021, 3:51 pm

I don't do so well in tests where only the eyes are shown. I do much better if the whole face is shown.



PhosphorusDecree
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30 Apr 2021, 3:55 pm

I pretty much don't look at faces at all, as looking directly at people's faces is so uncomfortable any information I might get from them is drowned out by panic. I rely entirely on posture and tone of voice.


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30 Apr 2021, 4:55 pm

kraftiekortie wrote:
I don't do so well in tests where only the eyes are shown. I do much better if the whole face is shown.


That isn't as uncommon as you think. During the pandemic I've heard NT people say they can't tell people's facial expressions as easily when everyone is wearing a face mask. Which is why those tests with just the eyes shown isn't a reliable way to test how well you can read facial expressions.


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Udinaas
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30 Apr 2021, 5:02 pm

GodzillaWoman wrote:
I find it easier to read actors' expressions on TV/movies than in real life. My theory is that an actor is trying to CONVEY emotion while a real person may be trying to CONCEAL an emotion. I'm not sure if this means an actor is more obvious, holds the expression longer, or just less ambiguous. Any actors out there that can comment?

Same. Strong expressions are easy to read. The more subtle ones are hard so in real life I mostly determine people's emotions by their tone of voice, words, and actions.



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01 May 2021, 9:25 am

I have a feeling that many of these facial expressions tests use computer manipulated images of one face. So the same face made to look angry or sad etc. This is therefore not an actual facial expression but a fake.
I believe many autists can tell it's not real and that is the more relevant information to us rather than the supposed emotion.

Just a thought. May not be relevant here.


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quite an extreme
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01 May 2021, 10:24 am

GodzillaWoman wrote:
Wow, this makes a lot of sense. Generally when I am trying to read someone's face, it's like I am Sherlock scanning a room for clues (contracted eyebrows, narrowed nostrils, compressed lips = disgust/anger???) It takes several seconds (vs. a neurotypical's ability to read expressions in < 1 second).

For getting the emotions you need to look at the point between the eyes where where the nose ends. That's where you are realizing the changes of the expressions of the eyes of people most.
GodzillaWoman wrote:
Since most people change expressions after a second or two, that means I fall behind.

Their mirror neurons cause NTs to even copy the facial expressions of others for getting their feelings right. I noticed once that NT women need about 2 seconds to do adapt their facial expressions to match mine atypical one in that moment at a really scary degree. (I did look serious and very concentrated.)

Normal eye contact: Look into one eye, look every three or four seconds at the other too for not keeping staring for to long and check the point between the eyes whenever you want to realize the emotions of the opposite. Sometimes NT women are doing that for hours while they are chatting. I guess that they enjoy to share each others emotions while their are chatting.

I'm aware that NTs are realizing my feelings at a very high degree. Once you are looking at them they are not only getting your emotions but also assuming that they are your feelings towards them. For this don't look at people with a bad mood. And don't look at them without feeling anything or they are assuming you more than just disliking them.


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Last edited by quite an extreme on 01 May 2021, 10:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

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01 May 2021, 10:25 am

I don't look at people's faces during conversation, at all. I'm usually facing the other direction because I don't like them to look at ME due to scopophobia, social phobia, and the whole "no eye contact" thing. I very rarely look at a person's face but I could tell you a lot about small details on the ground, or off to one side of my view.

I'm not sure I understand the distinction that's presented in the article. We see the facial emotions but we don't .... (what?) I'm not clear about what the finding means.

In my ASD test I got the lowest score my assessor had ever recorded for "Reading emotions in the eyes". It was first percentile and deemed a significant clinical risk for being conned, manipulated, exploited, etc. - which actually explains a lot about my life.



quite an extreme
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01 May 2021, 10:45 am

IsabellaLinton wrote:
In my ASD test I got the lowest score my assessor had ever recorded for "Reading emotions in the eyes". It was first percentile and deemed a significant clinical risk for being conned, manipulated, exploited, etc. - which actually explains a lot about my life.

Sorry to hear that. I did once talk to an Asian woman where even I did realize that she didn't realize any emotion in my eyes. She did eye contact but did not mirroring any emotions in her eyes. She also told me being totally clueless regarding the emotions of others. She had Asperger's for sure.


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Edna3362
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01 May 2021, 1:50 pm

... In most social interactions, the first thing I'd do is look at people's lips and strain my ears.

Sometimes I'm not even looking at the faces or my mind in any visual processing at all -- if anything, I might as well trying to keeping it at bay.

It doesn't help that I seem to develop some kind of auditory processing issue in my recent years.

Nevermind looking at faces and their eyes, and trying to read or even remember them.

Most of my processing is simply been with doing the former.
While keeping bay with other sensory interferences, irrelevant thoughts and feelings, the complexity of translating supposed relevant thoughts into words, controlling intended wording and tone, movement, etc.

Nevermind lists of social rules, what and what is not appropriate. Nevermind body language.

Nevermind observing the rest of the subtle spectrums and subtexts, because my processing is already stretched out.



But when my sleep and hormones apparently had a fluke (read: healthy/awake like sensation at the back of my eyes, on the left side especially, as if stimulants actually worked) I do not have the same struggles with processing issues.

I can actually afford to process all these in a conscious level without trouble.


I don't have a formal assessment for body language and eyes reading.
But I do have observations of not doing eye contact.


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