A threat-detection advantage in those with autism spectrum disorders
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Identifying threatening expressions is a significant social perceptual skill. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are impaired in social interaction, show deficits in face and emotion processing, show amygdala abnormalities and display a disadvantage in the perception of social threat. According to the anger superiority hypothesis, angry faces capture attention faster than happy faces in individuals with a history of typical development [Hansen, C. H., & Hansen, R. D. (1988). Finding the face in the crowd: An anger superiority effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 917-924]. We tested threat detection abilities in ASD using a facial visual search paradigm. Participants were asked to detect an angry or happy face image in an array of distracter faces. A threat-detection advantage was apparent in both groups: participants showed faster and more accurate detection of threatening over friendly faces. Participants with ASD showed similar reaction time, but decreased overall accuracy compared to controls. This provides evidence for less robust, but intact or learned implicit processing of basic emotions in ASD.
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