Face processing abilities in relatives of individuals with ASD

Simon Wallace, Catherine Sebastian, Elizabeth Pellicano, Jeremy Parr, Anthony Bailey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show difficulties identifying familiar faces, recognizing emotional expressions and judging eye-gaze direction. Recent research suggests that relatives of individuals with AS also show impairments in some aspects of face processing but no study has comprehensively assessed the nature and extent of face-processing difficulties in a group of relatives. This study compared the performance of 22 parents/adult siblings of individuals with ASD ("relatives" group), 26 adults with ASD, and 26 typically developing adults on tasks of face discrimination, facial expression recognition and judging eye-gaze direction. Relatives of individuals with ASD were less able to discriminate subtle differences between faces than typically developing adults, but were more sensitive to such differences than adults with ASD. Furthermore, relatives were significantly worse at identifying expressions of fear and disgust than typically developing adults and failed to show the typical sensitivity to direct compared with averted eye-gaze direction-a strikingly similar pattern to that observed in adults with ASD. These findings show that atypical patterns of face processing are found in some relatives of individuals with ASD and suggest that these difficulties may represent a cognitive endophenotype.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-349
Number of pages5
JournalAutism Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • broader autism phenotype
  • face processing
  • genetics
  • relatives


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