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Is There a "Language of the Eyes"? Evidence from Normal Adults, and Adults with Autism or Asperger Syndrome

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Previous work suggests that a range of mental states can be read from facial expressions, beyond the "basic emotions". Experiment 1 tested this in more detail, by using a standardized method, and by testing the role of face parts (eyes vs. mouth vs. the whole face). Adult subjects were shown photographs of an actress posing 10 basic emotions (happy, sad, angry, afraid, etc.) and 10 complex mental states (scheme, admire, interest, thoughtfulness, etc.). For each mental state, each subject was shown the whole face, the eyes alone, or the mouth alone, and were given a forced choice of two mental state terms. Results indicated that: (1) Subjects show remarkable agreement in ascribing a wide range of mental states to facial expressions, (2) for the basic emotions, the whole face is more informative than either the eyes or the mouth, (3) for the complex mental states, seeing the eyes alone produced significantly better performance than seeing the mouth alone, and was as informative as the whole face. In Experiment 2, the eye-region effect was re-tested, this time using an actor's face, in order to test if this effect generalized across faces of different sex. Results were broadly similar to those found in Experiment 1. In Experiment 3, adults with autism or Asperger Syndrome were testedusing the same procedure as Experiment1. Results showed a significant impairment relative to normal adults on the complex mental states, and this was most marked on the eyes-alone condition. The results from all three experiments are discussed in relation to the role or perception in the use of our everyday "theory of mind", and the role of eye-contact in this.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/713756761

Publication date: September 1, 1997

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