Atypical face processing plays a key role in social interaction difficulties encountered by individuals with autism. In the current fMRI study, the Thatcher illusion was used to investigate several aspects of face processing in 20 young adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 20 matched neurotypical controls. “Thatcherized” stimuli were modified at either the eyes or the mouth and participants discriminated between pairs of faces while cued to attend to either of these features in upright and inverted orientation. Behavioral data confirmed sensitivity to the illusion and intact configural processing in ASD. Directing attention towards the eyes vs. the mouth in upright faces in ASD led to (1) improved discrimination accuracy; (2) increased activation in areas involved in social and emotional processing; (3) increased activation in subcortical face-processing areas. Our findings show that when explicitly cued to attend to the eyes, activation of cortical areas involved in face processing, including its social and emotional aspects, can be enhanced in autism. This suggests that impairments in face processing in autism may be caused by a deficit in social attention, and that giving specific cues to attend to the eye-region when performing behavioral therapies aimed at improving social skills may result in a better outcome.
Abnormal eye contact is a core symptom of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), though little is understood of the neural bases of gaze processing in ASD. Competing hypotheses suggest that individuals with ASD avoid eye contact due to the anxiety-provoking nature of direct eye gaze or that eye-gaze cues hold less interest or significance to children with ASD. The current study examined the effects of gaze direction on neural processing of emotional faces in typically developing (TD) children and those with ASD. While undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 16 high-functioning children and adolescents with ASD and 16 TD controls viewed a series of faces depicting emotional expressions with either direct or averted gaze. Children in both groups showed significant activity in visual-processing regions for both direct and averted gaze trials. However, there was a significant group by gaze interaction such that only TD children showed reliably greater activity in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex for direct versus averted gaze. The ASD group showed no difference between direct and averted gaze in response to faces conveying negative emotions. These results highlight the key role of eye gaze in signaling communicative intent and suggest altered processing of the emotional significance of direct gaze in children with ASD.
Autism; facial expression; functional magnetic resonance imaging; gaze; developmental neuroimaging
A growing body of evidence suggests that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are related to altered communication between brain regions. Here, we present findings showing that ASD is characterized by a pattern of reduced functional integration as well as reduced segregation of large-scale brain networks. Twenty-three children with ASD and 25 typically developing matched controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while passively viewing emotional face expressions. We examined whole-brain functional connectivity of two brain structures previously implicated in emotional face processing in autism: the amygdala bilaterally and the right pars opercularis of the inferior frontal gyrus (rIFGpo). In the ASD group, we observed reduced functional integration (i.e., less long-range connectivity) between amygdala and secondary visual areas, as well as reduced segregation between amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. For the rIFGpo seed, we observed reduced functional integration with parietal cortex and increased integration with right frontal cortex as well as right nucleus accumbens. Finally, we observed reduced segregation between rIFGpo and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. We propose that a systems-level approach—whereby the integration and segregation of large-scale brain networks in ASD is examined in relation to typical development—may provide a more detailed characterization of the neural basis of ASD.
amygdala; connectivity; default mode network; face processing; mirror neuron system
Face inversion produces a detrimental effect on face recognition. The extent to which the inversion of faces and other kinds of objects influences the perceptual binding of visual information into global forms is not known. We used a behavioral method and functional MRI (fMRI) to measure the effect of face inversion on visual persistence, a type of perceptual memory that reflects sustained awareness of global form. We found that upright faces persisted longer than inverted versions of the same images; we observed a similar effect of inversion on the persistence of animal stimuli. This effect of inversion on persistence was evident in sustained fMRI activity throughout the ventral visual hierarchy, including the lateral occipital area (LO), two face-selective visual areas—the fusiform face area (FFA) and the occipital face area (OFA)—and several early visual areas. V1 showed the same initial fMRI activation to upright and inverted forms but this activation lasted longer for upright stimuli. The inversion effect on persistence-related fMRI activity in V1 and other retinotopic visual areas demonstrates that higher-tier visual areas influence early visual processing via feedback. This feedback effect on figure-ground processing is sensitive to the orientation of the figure.
Executive functions deficits are among the most frequently reported symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), however, there have been few functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that investigate the neural substrates of executive functions deficits in ASDs, and only one in adolescents. The current study examined cognitive control –the ability to maintain task context online to support adaptive functioning in the face of response competition—in 22 adolescents aged 12–18 with autism spectrum disorders and 23 age, gender, and IQ matched typically developing subjects. During the cue phase of the task, where subjects must maintain information online to overcome a prepotent response tendency, typically developing subjects recruited significantly more anterior frontal (BA 10), parietal (BA 7, 40), and occipital regions (BA 18) for high control trials (25% of trials) versus low control trials (75% of trials). Both groups showed similar activation for low control cues, however the ASD group exhibited significantly less activation for high control cues. Functional connectivity analysis using time series correlation, factor analysis, and beta series correlation methods provided convergent evidence that the ASD group exhibited lower levels of functional connectivity and less network integration between frontal, parietal, and occipital regions. In the typically developing group, fronto-parietal connectivity was related to lower error rates on high control trials. In the autism group, reduced fronto-parietal connectivity was related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms.
autism spectrum disorders; cognitive control; executive functions; fMRI; functional connectivity; attention deficit disorder
The discrimination of thatcherized faces from typical faces was explored in two simultaneous alternative forced choice tasks. Reaction times (RTs) and errors were measured in a behavioural task. Brain activation was measured in an equivalent fMRI task. In both tasks, participants were tested with upright and inverted faces. Participants were also tested on churches in the behavioural task. The behavioural task confirmed the face specificity of the illusion (by comparing inversion effects for faces against churches) but also demonstrated that the discrimination was primarily, although not exclusively, driven by attending to eyes. The fMRI task showed that, relative to inverted faces, upright grotesque faces are discriminated via activation of a network of emotion/social evaluation processing areas. On the other hand, discrimination of inverted thatcherized faces was associated with increased activation of brain areas that are typically involved in perceptual processing of faces.
Controversy surrounds the proposal that specific human cortical regions in the ventral occipitotemporal cortex, commonly called the fusiform face area (FFA) and occipital face area (OFA), are specialized for face processing. Here, we present findings from an fMRI study of identity discrimination of faces and objects that demonstrates the FFA and OFA are equally responsive to processing stimuli at the level of individuals (i.e., individuation), be they human faces or non-face objects. The FFA and OFA were defined via a passive viewing task as regions that produced greater activation to faces relative to non-face stimuli within the middle fusiform gyrus and inferior occipital gyrus. In the individuation task, participants judged whether sequentially presented images of faces, diverse objects, or wristwatches depicted the identical or a different exemplar. All three stimulus types produced equivalent BOLD activation within the FFA and OFA; that is, there was no face-specific or face-preferential processing. Critically, individuation processing did not eliminate an object superiority effect relative to faces within a region more closely linked to object processing in the lateral occipital complex (LOC), suggesting that individuation processes are reasonably specific to the FFA and OFA. Taken together, these findings challenge the prevailing view that the FFA and OFA are face-specific processing regions, demonstrating instead that they function to individuate – i.e., identify specific individuals – within a category. These findings have significant implications for understanding the function of brain regions widely believed to play an important role in social cognition.
fusiform face area; face processing; functional MRI; visual processing; occipital face area
Despite the importance of face processing for normal social development, no fMRI studies of face processing in autism have focused exclusively on the childhood years. In order to fill that gap, forty-five children between the ages of 6-12 participated in practice scans, and after exclusion due to motion, 11 children with an ASD and 11 age-matched normal controls were included in final analyses.
Stimuli consisted of pictures of a familiar adult, familiar child, stranger adult, stranger child, and objects. During the scan, children pressed a button in response to an identical face shown on two consecutive trials. Based on our prior research, masks of four anatomical ROIs including the fusiform gyrus, amygdala, anterior and posterior cingulate were created and manually edited for anatomical precision for each subject. Following deconvolution analyses, the number of voxels significantly active and % signal change values that fell within each ROI mask were calculated for each subject.
Analyses revealed normal fusiform activity in children with autism when viewing a face of their mother or other children. In contrast, looking at stranger adult faces initiated profound deficits in that the mean number of significantly active voxels in the fusiform bilaterally was approximately 25% of that shown in typically developing children.
A selective fusiform deficit in response only to the faces of adult strangers may be the result of reduced attention and interest during those conditions. Face processing abnormalities found in autism likely exists beyond the fusiform.
Autism; face processing; fMRI; pediatric imaging; children; fusiform face area
Williams syndrome (WS) is a genetic condition characterized by atypical brain structure, cognitive deficits, and a life-long fascination with faces. Face recognition is relatively spared in WS, despite abnormalities in aspects of face processing, and structural alterations in the fusiform gyrus, part of the ventral visual stream. Thus, face recognition in WS may be subserved by abnormal neural substrates in the ventral stream. To test this hypothesis, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and examined the fusiform face area (FFA), which is implicated in face recognition in typically developed individuals (TD), but its role in WS is not well understood. We found that the FFA size was approximately twice larger among WS than TDs, (both absolutely and relative the fusiform gyrus), despite apparently normal levels of face recognition performance on a Benton face recognition test. Thus, a larger FFA may play a role in face recognition proficiency among WS.
fMRI; Vision; Ventral Temporal; Amygdala; Cognitive; Genetics
We investigated 0.01–0.08HZ low-frequency fluctuations of BOLD-fMRI signals in the face and object responsive regions during the resting state and during face or object viewing tasks. By comparing the effects of the face-responsive regions of interest with those of the object-responsive regions of interest, we observed a distributed cortical network of face perception during the resting state among posterior fusiform gyrus, inferior occipital gyrus, and superior temporal sulcus. This network was also significantly activated during the face perception task. The face perception task also activated additional areas in the frontal and parietal regions. Our results suggest that the “core” but not the “extended” network for face processing is already in some form of activation during the resting state. A possible function of the resting state face perception network is perhaps to prepare the brain to process faces that individuals are highly likely to encounter in their environment.
resting state; face processing; core and extended networks; fMRI
A region in the lateral aspect of the fusiform gyrus (FG) is more engaged by human faces than any other category of image. It has come to be known as the 'fusiform face area' (FFA). The origin and extent of this specialization is currently a topic of great interest and debate. This is of special relevance to autism, because recent studies have shown that the FFA is hypoactive to faces in this disorder. In two linked functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of healthy young adults, we show here that the FFA is engaged by a social attribution task (SAT) involving perception of human-like interactions among three simple geometric shapes. The amygdala, temporal pole, medial prefrontal cortex, inferolateral frontal cortex and superior temporal sulci were also significantly engaged. Activation of the FFA to a task without faces challenges the received view that the FFA is restricted in its activities to the perception of faces. We speculate that abstract semantic information associated with faces is encoded in the FG region and retrieved for social computations. From this perspective, the literature on hypoactivation of the FFA in autism may be interpreted as a reflection of a core social cognitive mechanism underlying the disorder.
Much of the work on face-selective neural activity has focused on posterior, ventral areas of the human and non-human primate brain. However, electrophysiological and fMRI studies have identified face responses in the prefrontal cortex. Here we used fMRI to characterize these responses in the human prefrontal cortex compared with face selectivity in posterior ventral region. We examined a region at the junction of the right inferior frontal sulcus and the precentral sulcus (right inferior frontal junction or rIFJ) that responds more to faces than to several other object categories. We find that the rIFJ and the right fusiform face area (rFFA) are broadly similar in their responses to whole faces, headless bodies, tools, and scenes. Strikingly, however, while the rFFA preferentially responds to the whole face, the rIFJ response to faces appears to be driven primarily by the eyes. This dissociation provides clues to the functional role of the rIFJ face response. We speculate on this role with reference to emotion perception, gaze perception, and to behavioral relevance more generally.
faces; eyes; prefrontal cortex; FFA; fMRI
Imitation has been considered as one of the precursors for sociocommunicative development. Impairments of imitation in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could be indicative of dysfunctional underlying neural processes. Neuroimaging studies have found reduced activation in areas associated with imitation, but a functional connectivity MRI network perspective of these regions in autism is unavailable. Functional and effective connectivity was examined in 14 male participants with ASD and 14 matched typically developing (TD) participants. We analyzed intrinsic, low-frequency blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) fluctuations of three regions in literature found to be associated with imitation (inferior frontal gyrus [IFG], inferior parietal lobule [IPL], superior temporal sulcus [STS]). Direct group comparisons did not show significantly reduced functional connectivity within the imitation network in ASD. Conversely, we observed greater connectivity with frontal regions, particularly superior frontal and anterior cingulate gyri, in the ASD compared to TD group. Structural equation modeling of effective connectivity revealed a significantly reduced effect of IPL on IFG together with an increased influence of a region in dorsal prefrontal cortex (dPFC) on IFG in the ASD group. Our results suggest atypical connectivity of the imitation network with an enhanced role of dPFC, which may relate to behavioral impairments.
Asperger's disorder; fcMRI; intrinsic functional connectivity; effective connectivity; structural equation modeling; prefrontal cortex
Face processing relies on a distributed, patchy network of cortical regions in the temporal and frontal lobes that respond disproportionately to face stimuli, other cortical regions that are not even primarily visual (such as somatosensory cortex), and subcortical structures such as the amygdala. Higher-level face perception abilities, such as judging identity, emotion and trustworthiness, appear to rely on an intact face-processing network that includes the occipital face area (OFA), whereas lower-level face categorization abilities, such as discriminating faces from objects, can be achieved without OFA, perhaps via the direct connections to the fusiform face area (FFA) from several extrastriate cortical areas. Some lesion, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) findings argue against a strict feed-forward hierarchical model of face perception, in which the OFA is the principal and common source of input for other visual and non-visual cortical regions involved in face perception, including the FFA, face-selective superior temporal sulcus and somatosensory cortex. Instead, these findings point to a more interactive model in which higher-level face perception abilities depend on the interplay between several functionally and anatomically distinct neural regions. Furthermore, the nature of these interactions may depend on the particular demands of the task. We review the lesion and TMS literature on this topic and highlight the dynamic and distributed nature of face processing.
faces; lesion studies; transcranial magnetic stimulation; fusiform face area
The active maintenance of visual stimuli across a delay interval in working memory tasks is thought to involve reverberant neural communication between the prefrontal cortex and posterior visual association areas. The hippocampus has also recently been attributed a role in this retention process, presumably via its reciprocal connectivity with visual regions. To characterize the nature of these inter-regional interactions, we applied a recently developed functional connectivity analysis method to an event-related fMRI experiment in which participants performed a delayed face recognition task. As the number of faces that participants were required to remember was parametrically increased, the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) showed a linearly decreasing degree of functional connectivity with the fusiform face area (FFA) during the delay period. In contrast, the hippocampus linearly increased its delay period functional connectivity with both the FFA and the IFG as the mnemonic load increased. Moreover, the degree to which participants’ FFA showed a load-dependent increase in its connectivity with the hippocampus predicted the degree to which its connectivity with the IFG decreased with load. Thus, these two neural circuits may dynamically trade off to accommodate the particular mnemonic demands of the task, with IFG-FFA interactions mediating maintenance at lower loads and hippocampal interactions supporting retention at higher loads.
Recent evidence suggests that a rapid, automatic face-detection system is supported by subcortical structures including the amygdala, pulvinar, and superior colliculus. Early emerging abnormalities in these structures may be related to reduced social orienting in children with autism, and subsequently, to aberrant development of cortical circuits involved in face processing. Our objective was to determine whether functional abnormalities in the subcortical face processing system are present in adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) during supraliminal fearful face processing. Participants included twenty-eight individuals with ASD and 25 controls group-matched on age, IQ, and behavioral performance. The ASD group met diagnostic criteria on the ADI-R, ADOS-G, and DSM-IV. Both the ASD and control groups showed significant activation in bilateral fusiform gyri. The control group exhibited additional significant responses in the right amygdala, right pulvinar, and bilateral superior colliculi. In the direct group comparison, the controls showed significantly greater activation in the left amygdala, bilateral fusiform gyrus, right pulvinar, and bilateral superior colliculi. No brain region showed significantly greater activation in the ASD group compared to the controls. Thus, basic rapid face identification mechanisms appear to be functional in ASD. However, individuals with ASD failed to engage the subcortical brain regions involved in face detection and automatic emotional face processing, suggesting a core mechanism for impaired socioemotional processing in ASD. Neural abnormalities in this system may contribute to early emerging deficits in social orienting and attention, the putative precursors to abnormalities in social cognition and cortical face processing specialization.
Face recognition is a complex cognitive process that requires distinguishable neuronal representations of individual faces. Previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies using the “fMRI-adaptation” technique have suggested the existence of face-identity representations in face-selective regions, including the fusiform face area (FFA). Here, we present face-identity adaptation findings that are not well explained in terms of face-identity representations. We performed blood-oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) fMRI measurements, while participants viewed familiar faces that were shown repeatedly throughout the experiment. We found decreased activation for repeated faces in face-selective regions, as expected based on previous studies. However, we found similar effects in regions that are not face-selective, including the parahippocampal place area (PPA) and early visual cortex (EVC). These effects were present for exact-image (same view and lighting) as well as different-image (different view and/or lighting) repetition, but more widespread for exact-image repetition. Given the known functional properties of PPA and EVC, it appears unlikely that they contain domain-specific face-identity representations. Alternative interpretations include general attentional effects and carryover of activation from connected regions. These results remind us that fMRI stimulus-change effects can have a range of causes and do not provide conclusive evidence for a neuronal representation of the changed stimulus property.
attention; face-identity; fMRI-adaptation; fusiform face area; neuronal representation
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by decreased interest and engagement in social interactions and by enhanced self-focus. While previous theoretical approaches to understanding autism have emphasized social impairments and altered interpersonal interactions, there is a recent shift towards understanding the nature of the representation of the self in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Still, the neural mechanisms subserving self-representations in ASD are relatively unexplored.
We used event-related fMRI to investigate brain responsiveness to images of the subjects' own face and to faces of others. Children with ASD and typically developing (TD) children viewed randomly presented digital morphs between their own face and a gender-matched other face, and made “self/other” judgments. Both groups of children activated a right premotor/prefrontal system when identifying images containing a greater percentage of the self face. However, while TD children showed activation of this system during both self- and other-processing, children with ASD only recruited this system while viewing images containing mostly their own face.
This functional dissociation between the representation of self versus others points to a potential neural substrate for the characteristic self-focus and decreased social understanding exhibited by these individuals, and suggests that individuals with ASD lack the shared neural representations for self and others that TD children and adults possess and may use to understand others.
During face-to-face questioning, typically developing children and adults use gaze aversion (GA), away from their questioner, when thinking. GA increases with question difficulty and improves the accuracy of responses. This is the first study to investigate whether individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; associated with reduced sociability and atypical face gaze) and Williams syndrome (WS; associated with hypersociability and atypical face gaze) use GA to manage cognitive load during face-to-face interactions.
Two studies were conducted exploring the typicality of GA during face-to-face questioning in (a) ASD and (b) WS.
In Study 1, children with ASD increased their GA as question difficulty increased. In addition, they used most GA when thinking about their responses to questions, mirroring evidence from typically developing children. An important atypicality for participants with ASD was a significantly higher level of GA when listening to interlocutors. In Study 2, participants with WS showed typical patterns of GA in relation to question difficulty and across different points of the interaction.
Two different neuro-developmental disorders, both characterized by significant problems with executive control of attention and atypicalities of social interactions, exhibited generally typical patterns of GA. All groups used most GA while thinking about questions, and increased their GA as questions got harder. In addition, children with ASD showed elevated levels of GA while listening to questions, but not while thinking about or making their responses, suggesting that they sometimes fail to see the relevance of attending to visual cues rather than actively avoiding them. Results have important implications for how professionals interpret GA in these populations and for social skills training.
Eye contact; gaze; Williams syndrome; gaze aversion; autism spectrum disorder
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have documented deficits in face processing, face memory and abnormal activation of the neural circuitry that supports these functions. To examine speed of processing of faces in ASD, high density event-related brain potentials were recorded to images of faces, inverted faces and non-face objects from 32 high-functioning adults with ASD and controls. Participants were instructed to focus on a cross hair prior to stimulus onset; the cross-hair location directed the participant's eye gaze to the eye region at stimulus onset. Although the ASD group preformed more poorly on behavioral tests of face and object memory, both groups demonstrated similar ERP responses, characterized by greater (positive) P1 and (negative) N170 amplitude to faces vs houses. N170 speed of processing to faces did not differ between groups. However, only the control group demonstrated differential responses to upright vs inverted faces. For the ASD group, the differential response to inverted vs upright faces was associated with better performance on face memory and self-reported social skills. It is possible that the use of attention cues may facilitate face processing in high-functioning adults with ASD, suggesting that the underlying neural circuitry can be activated in adults with ASD under specific demands.
event-related potential; P100; N170; autism; face processing
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) involve a core deficit in social functioning and impairments in the ability to recognize face emotions. In an emotional faces task designed to constrain group differences in attention, the present study used functional MRI to characterize activation in the amygdala, ventral prefrontal cortex (vPFC), and striatum, three structures involved in socio-emotional processing, in adolescents with ASD.
Twenty-two adolescents with ASD and 20 healthy adolescents viewed facial expressions (happy, fearful, sad and neutral) that were briefly presented (250ms) during functional MRI acquisition. To monitor attention, subjects pressed a button to identify the gender of each face.
The ASD group showed greater activation to the faces relative to the control group in the amygdala, vPFC and striatum. Follow-up analyses indicated that the ASD relative to control group showed greater activation in the amygdala, vPFC and striatum (p<.05 small volume corrected), particularly to sad faces. Moreover, in the ASD group, there was a negative correlation between developmental variables (age and pubertal status) and mean activation from the whole bilateral amygdala; younger adolescents showed greater activation than older adolescents. There were no group differences in accuracy or reaction time in the gender identification task.
When group differences in attention to facial expressions were limited, adolescents with ASD showed greater activation in structures involved in socio-emotional processing.
Autism; Adolescents; FMRI; Faces; Emotion
To explore mechanisms underlying reduced fixation of eyes in autism, children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and typically developing children were tested in five visual search experiments: simple color feature; color-shape conjunction; face in non-face objects; mouth region; and eye region. No group differences were found for reaction time profile shapes in any of the five experiments, suggesting intact basic search mechanics in children with ASD. Contrary to early reports in the literature, but consistent with other more recent findings, we observed no superiority for conjunction search in children with ASD. Importantly, children with ASD did show reduced accuracy for eye region search (p = .005), suggesting that eyes contribute less to high-level face representations in ASD or that there is an eye region-specific disruption to attentional processes engaged by search in ASD.
Difficulty interpreting facial expressions has been reported in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and is thought to be associated with amygdala abnormalities. To further explore the neural basis of abnormal emotional face processing in ASD, we conducted an fMRI study of emotional face matching in high-functioning adults with ASD and age, IQ, and gender matched controls. In addition, we investigated whether there was a relationship between self-reported social anxiety and fMRI activation. During fMRI scanning, study participants were instructed to match facial expressions depicting fear or anger. The control condition was a comparable shape - matching task. The control group evidenced significantly increased left prefrontal activation and decreased activation in the occipital lobes compared to the ASD group during emotional face matching. Further, within the ASD group, greater social anxiety was associated with increased activation in right amygdala and left middle temporal gyrus, and decreased activation in the fusiform face area. These results indicate that level of social anxiety mediates the neural response to emotional face perception in ASD.
Autism; Asperger’s disorder; amygdala; anxiety; emotional face processing; fusiform face area
There has been considerable controversy regarding whether children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing children (TD) show different eye movement patterns when processing faces. We investigated ASD and age- and IQ-matched TD children's scanning of faces using a novel multi-method approach. We found that ASD children spent less time looking at the whole face generally. After controlling for this difference, ASD children's fixations of the other face parts, except for the eye region, and their scanning paths between face parts were comparable either to the age-matched or IQ-matched TD groups. In contrast, in the eye region, ASD children's scanning differed significantly from that of both TD groups: (a) ASD children fixated significantly less on the right eye (from the observer's view); (b) ASD children's fixations were more biased towards the left eye region; and (c) ASD children fixated below the left eye, whereas TD children fixated on the pupil region of the eye. Thus, ASD children do not have a general abnormality in face scanning. Rather, their abnormality is limited to the eye region, likely due to their strong tendency to avoid eye contact.
autism spectrum disorder; face processing; face recognition; eye movements; eye tracking
Do voluntary (endogenous) and involuntary (exogenous) attention have the same perceptual consequences? Here we used fMRI to examine activity in the fusiform face area (FFA-a region in ventral visual cortex responsive to faces) and frontal-parietal areas (dorsal regions involved in spatial attention) under voluntary and involuntary spatial cueing conditions. The trial and stimulus parameters were identical for both cueing conditions. However, the cue predicted the location of an upcoming target face in the voluntary condition but was nonpredictive in the involuntary condition. The predictable cue-condition led to increased activity in the FFA compared to the nonpredictable cue-condition. These results show that voluntary attention leads to more activity in areas of the brain associated with face processing than involuntary attention, and they are consistent with differential behavioral effects of attention on recognition-related processes.
FFA; exogenous attention; endogenous attention; fMRI; spatial cueing