aVisual Neuroscience Laboratory, Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Life Science, Faculty of Medicine, University of CoimbrabNeurodevelopmental Unit and Autism of the Center of Child Development, Pediatric Hospital, Hospital Center and University of CoimbracUniversity Clinic of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, University of CoimbradCenter for Research and Clinical Training, Pediatric Hospital, Hospital Center and University of Coimbra, Portugal
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Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are impaired in face recognition and emotional expression identification. According to current models, there are at least three levels of face processing: first order (two eyes, above a nose, which is above a mouth), second order (the relative distance between features), and holistic (ability to recognize as faces images that lack distinctive facial features). Some studies have reported deficits in configural and holistic processing in individuals with ASD. We investigated the neural correlates of these phenomena by measuring event-related potentials in high-functioning adults with ASD and healthy controls, during a face decision task, using a comprehensive set of photographic, schematic and Mooney upright and inverted faces, and scrambled images. Behaviorally, ASD and healthy controls were performance matched. At the electrophysiological level, individuals with ASD showed a bilateral N170 inversion effect in latency and left lateralized in amplitude for photographic faces, with bilaterally longer latencies and left higher amplitudes (more negative) N170 for inverted than upright photographic faces, and a right lateralized N170 inversion effect in latency for schematic faces. We conclude that under performance-matched conditions, adults with ASD show preserved N170 inversion effects and associated sparing of facial configural processing. An oral presentation of this work can be consulted using the following link, Supplemental digital content 1, http://links.lww.com/WNR/A382.