ERP responses differentiate inverted but not upright face processing in adults with ASD

Sara Jane Webb*, Kristen Merkle, Michael Andrew Murias, Todd Richards, Elizabeth Aylward, Geraldine Dawson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    59 Scopus citations


    Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have documented deficits in face processing, face memory and abnormal activation of the neural circuitry that supports these functions. To examine speed of processing of faces in ASD, high density event-related brain potentials were recorded to images of faces, inverted faces and non-face objects from 32 high-functioning adults with ASD and controls. Participants were instructed to focus on a cross hair prior to stimulus onset; the cross-hair location directed the participant's eye gaze to the eye region at stimulus onset. Although the ASD group preformed more poorly on behavioral tests of face and object memory, both groups demonstrated similar ERP responses, characterized by greater (positive) P1 and (negative) N170 amplitude to faces vs houses. N170 speed of processing to faces did not differ between groups. However, only the control group demonstrated differential responses to upright vs inverted faces. For the ASD group, the differential response to inverted vs upright faces was associated with better performance on face memory and self-reported social skills. It is possible that the use of attention cues may facilitate face processing in high-functioning adults with ASD, suggesting that the underlying neural circuitry can be activated in adults with ASD under specific demands.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article numbernsp002
    Pages (from-to)578-587
    Number of pages10
    JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - Jun 2012


    • Autism
    • Event-related potential
    • Face processing
    • N170
    • P100

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Cognitive Neuroscience


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