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Converging evidence of configural processing of faces in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorders

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There is conflicting evidence about whether individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate configural processing of faces. We examined two types of configural processing of unfamiliar faces in high-functioning adults with ASD: Holistic processing (processing a face as a gestalt percept) and processing of second-order relations (the spatial relations among facial features, e.g., distance between two eyes). Compared to age- and IQ-matched typical adults, 17 adults with ASD demonstrated normal holistic processing (as demonstrated by the composite face effect), normal sensitivity to second-order relations in upright faces, and the expected disruption of sensitivity to second-order relations in inverted faces. They were also normal in using the internal features and shape of the external contour to make same/different judgements about facial identity. The results provide converging evidence of configural processing of unfamiliar faces in high-functioning adults with ASD, and bring into question the generalizability of previous reports of abnormal face processing in individuals with ASD.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada

Publication date: 2008-02-01

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