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Title: Facial motion perception in autism spectrum disorder and neurotypical controls
Authors: Girges, Christine
Advisors: Spencer, J
O'Brien, J
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder;Face perception;Biological motion;Facial motion;Social cognition
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: Facial motion provides an abundance of information necessary for mediating social communication. Emotional expressions, head rotations and eye-gaze patterns allow us to extract categorical and qualitative information from others (Blake & Shiffrar, 2007). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by a severe impairment in social cognition. One of the causes may be related to a fundamental deficit in perceiving human movement (Herrington et al., (2007). This hypothesis was investigated more closely within the current thesis. In neurotypical controls, the visual processing of facial motion was analysed via EEG alpha waves. Participants were tested on their ability to discriminate between successive animations (exhibiting rigid and nonrigid motion). The appearance of the stimuli remained constant over trials, meaning decisions were based solely on differential movement patterns. The parieto-occipital region was specifically selective to upright facial motion while the occipital cortex responded similarly to natural and manipulated faces. Over both regions, a distinct pattern of activity in response to upright faces was characterised by a transient decrease and subsequent increase in neural processing (Girges et al., 2014). These results were further supported by an fMRI study which showed sensitivity of the superior temporal sulcus (STS) to perceived facial movements relative to inanimate and animate stimuli. The ability to process information from dynamic faces was assessed in ASD. Participants were asked to recognise different sequences, unfamiliar identities and genders from facial motion captures. Stimuli were presented upright and inverted in order to assess configural processing. Relative to the controls, participants with ASD were significantly impaired on all three tasks and failed to show an inversion effect (O'Brien et al., 2014). Functional neuroimaging revealed atypical activities in the visual cortex, STS and fronto-parietal regions thought to contain mirror neurons in participants with ASD. These results point to a deficit in the visual processing of facial motion, which in turn may partly cause social communicative impairments in ASD.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and was awarded by Brunel University London
Appears in Collections:Psychology
Dept of Life Sciences Theses

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