Background: Atypical face processing is a prominent feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but is not universal and is subject to individual variability. This heterogeneity could be accounted for by reliable yet unidentified subgroups within the diverse population of individuals with ASD. Alexithymia, which is characterized by difficulties in emotion recognition and identification, serves as a potential grouping factor. Recent research demonstrates that emotion recognition impairments in ASD are predicted by its comorbidity with alexithymia. The current study assessed the relative influence of autistic versus alexithymic traits on neural indices of face and emotion perception. Methods: Capitalizing upon the temporal sensitivity of event-related potentials (ERPs), it investigates the distinct contributions of alexithymic versus autistic traits at specific stages of emotional face processing in 27 typically developing adults (18 female). ERP components reflecting sequential stages of perceptual processing (P100, N170 and N250) were recorded in response to fear and neutral faces. Results: The results indicated that autistic traits were associated with structural encoding of faces (N170), whereas alexithymic traits were associated with more complex emotion decoding (N250). Conclusions: These findings have important implications for deconstructing heterogeneity within ASD.
- face perception