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Reduced neural sensitivity to rapid individual face discrimination in autism spectrum disorder

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

BACKGROUND: Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are characterized by impairments in social communication and interaction. Although difficulties at processing social signals from the face in ASD have been observed and emphasized for many years, there is a lot of inconsistency across both behavioral and neural studies. METHODS: We recorded scalp electroencephalography (EEG) in 23 8-to-12 year old boys with ASD and 23 matched typically developing boys using a fast periodic visual stimulation (FPVS) paradigm, providing objective (i.e., frequency-tagged), fast (i.e., few minutes) and highly sensitive measures of rapid face categorization, without requiring any explicit face processing task. We tested both the sensitivity to rapidly (i.e., at a glance) categorize faces among other objects and to individuate unfamiliar faces. OUTCOMES: While general neural synchronization to the visual stimulation and neural responses indexing generic face categorization were undistinguishable between children with ASD and typically developing controls, neural responses indexing individual face discrimination over the occipito-temporal cortex were substantially reduced in the individuals with ASD. This difference vanished when faces were presented upside-down, due to the lack of significant face inversion effect in ASD. INTERPRETATION: These data provide original evidence for a selective high-level impairment in individual face discrimination in ASD in an implicit task. The objective and rapid assessment of this function opens new perspectives for ASD diagnosis in clinical settings.
Journal: NeuroImage: Clinical
Volume: 21
Number of pages: 11
Publication year:2019