Weaker face recognition in adults with autism arises from perceptually based alterations

Marissa Hartston, Galia Avidan, Yoni Pertzov, Bat Sheva Hadad*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Face recognition has been shown to be impaired in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, it is still debated whether these face processing deficits arise from perceptually based alterations. We tested individuals with ASD and matched typically developing (TD) individuals using a delayed estimation task in which a single target face was shown either upright or inverted. Participants selected a face that best resembled the target face out of a cyclic space of morphed faces. To enable the disentanglement of visual from mnemonic processing, reports were required either following a 1 and 6 second retention interval, or simultaneously while the target face was still visible. Individuals with ASD made significantly more errors than TD individuals in both the simultaneous and delayed intervals, indicating that face recognition deficits in autism are also perceptual rather than strictly memory based. Moreover, individuals with ASD exhibited weaker inversion effects than the TD individuals, on all retention intervals. This finding, that was mostly evident in precision errors, suggests that contrary to the more precise representations of upright faces in TD individuals, individuals with ASD exhibit similar levels of precision for inverted and upright faces, for both simultaneous and delayed conditions. These results suggest that weakened memory for faces reported in ASD may be secondary to an underlying perceptual deficit in face processing.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)723-733
Number of pages11
JournalAutism Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • face processing
  • perceptual abilities
  • short-term memory
  • working memory


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