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Imitation and expression of facial affect in autism

  • Katherine A. Loveland (a1), Belgin Tunali-Kotoski (a1), Deborah A. Pearson (a1), Kristin A. Brelsford (a1), Juliana Ortegon (a1) and Richard Chen (a1)...


This study examined elicited (posed) affective expressions in children, adolescents, and young adults with autism (N = 18) or Down's syndrome (N = 24). Subjects were asked to (a) imitate five modeled expressions (Imitation task) and (b) produce five labeled expressions (Expression task). Subjects with autism produced recognizable expressions in both tasks, but they produced fewer than did subjects with Down's syndrome when target emotions were labeled but not modeled (Expression). Imitation and Expression tasks were equally difficult for subjects with autism, but subjects with Down's syndrome performed better in Expression than in Imitation. In both tasks, the responses of subjects with autism contained many unusual behaviors, such as bizarre expressions and those that looked “mechanical.” Results suggest that producing elicited affective expressions is more difficult for persons with autism than for persons with Down's syndrome of similar chronological age, mental age, and IQ.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Katherine A. Loveland, Ph.D., UTMSI, 1300 Moursund, Houston, TX 77030.


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