Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The present study investigated two areas of emotion recognition in school-aged high-functioning children with autism and typically developing children, matched on chronological age and gender: (1) recognition of facially expressed emotions that were presented in still photographs of adult faces and (2) emotion recognition from situational and facial cues, presented in line drawings of emotionally-laden situations. For the photograph task, children's accuracy in recognizing facial expressions of happy, sad, angry, and fear emotions along with neutral expressions was investigated. All emotional expressions were presented with computer-generated direct and averted eye-gaze at 100% and 50% emotion strength. Of particular interest were whether eye-gaze direction and emotion strength affect children's interpretation of facially expressed emotions and whether these factors influence perception in a different way for typically developing children than children with autism. Children's own ratings of emotional intensity of photographed facial expressions were also explored in relation to emotion strength and eye-gaze direction. In addition to the photograph task, line drawings depicting scenarios of happy, sad, angry, and fear eliciting events were used to investigate the role situational and facial cues play in emotion recognition, particularly when they were incongruent with one another.

Participants were 22 high-functioning children with autism (17 male, 5 female; mean age 10.31) and 22 age and gender matched typically developing children (17 male, 5 female; mean age 9.96). Children with autism had previously been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by a certified clinician according to the DSM-IV criteria, they had a verbal mental age of at least 7 years, and had a Performance IQ score above 75.

The present findings are consistent with studies that show autistic children to be less adequate at recognizing basic emotional expressions, particularly fear and sadness. Contrary to the eyes processing deficit hypothesis, children with autism were found to be sensitive to eye-gaze direction while identifying emotional expressions. In addition, direct eye-gaze was shown to heighten the perception of emotional intensity in children with autism but not typically developing children supporting previous findings that direct eye-gaze elicits more arousal. Finally, when children were presented with incongruent facial and situational cues, children with autism tended to rely more on facial cues than situational cues, whereas typically developing children relied more on situational cues. These results are discussed within the context of previous research on emotion recognition in individuals with autism.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.