Skip to main content Accessibility help

Intermodal perception of affect in persons with autism or Down syndrome

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


Persons with autism (n = 28) or Down syndrome (n = 30) took part in a study of the ability to detect intermodal correspondence between facial and vocal/linguistic information for affect. Participants viewed 24 split-screen images of an individual talking and displaying a different affect on each side of the display (happy, sad, angry, surprised, or neutral). The vocal track, matching one affect (i.e., one side of the split-screen) but not the other, was played from a central speaker. Subjects were asked to point to the side matching the vocal track. The vocal track was desynchronized with both sides, so that rhythmic synchrony was greatly reduced and subjects must use affect to make their choices. In the first control condition, rhythmic synchrony information was restored. In a second control condition, inanimate objects and their sounds were presented. In the experimental condition, when verbal mental age and IQ were taken into account, the autism group performed more poorly than did the Down syndrome group in detecting intermodal correspondence of face and voice. When rhythmic synchrony information was available, both groups' performances improved, with the Down syndrome group performing slightly better than the group with autism. There were no group differences in the condition using inanimate objects. Results suggest that persons with autism may have difficulty detecting intermodal correspondence of facial and vocal/linguistic affect.


Corresponding author

Katherine A. Loveland, Ph.D., Center for Human Development Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Texas Medical School-Houston, UTMSI-1300 Moursund Street, Houston, Texas 77030.


Hide All
Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 3746.
Dawson, G., & Lewy, A. (1989a). Arousal, attention, and the socio-emotional impairments of individuals with autism. In Dawson, G. (Ed.), Autism: Nature, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 4974). New York: Guilford Press.
Dawson, G., & Lewy, A. (1989b). Reciprocal subcortical-cortical influences in autism: The role of attentional mechanisms. In Dawson, G. (Ed.), Autism: Nature, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 144173). New York: Guilford Press.
Fein, D., Tinder, P., & Waterhouse, L. (1979). Stimulus generalization in autistic and normal children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 20, 325335.
Ferrara, C., & Hill, S. (1980). The responsiveness of autistic children to the predictability of social and nonsocial toys. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 10, 5157.
Frith, U. (1989). Autism: Explaining the enigma. Oxford: Blackwell.
Frith, U., & Baron-Cohen, S. (1987). Perception in autistic children. In Cohen, D. J. & Donnellan, A. M. (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders (pp. 85102). Silver Spring, MA: Winston.
Gibson, E. J. (1969). Principles of perceptual learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Haviland, J. M., & Lelwica, M. (1987). The induced affect response: 10-week-old infants' responses to three emotion expressions. Developmental Psychology, 23, 97104.
Hermelin, B. (1978). Images and language. In Rutter, M. & Schopler, E. (Eds.), Autism: A reappraisal of concept and treatment (pp. 141154). New York: Plenum Press.
Hermelin, B., & O'Connor, N. (1970). Psychological experiments with autistic children. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Hobson, R. P. (1989). Beyond cognition: A theory of autism. In Dawson, G. (Ed.), Autism: Nature, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 2248). New York: Guilford Press.
Hobson, R. P., Ouston, J., & Lee, A. (1988a). What's in a face? The case of autism. British Journal of Psychology, 79, 441451.
Hobson, R. P., Ouston, J., & Lee, A. (1988b). Emotion recognition in autism: Coordinating faces and voices. Psychological Medicine, 18, 911923.
Hobson, R. P. (1993a). Understanding persons: The role of affect. In Baron-Cohen, S., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Cohen, D. (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from autism (pp. 204227). New York: Oxford University Press.
Hobson, R. P. (1993b). Autism and the development of mind. Hillsdale: LEA.
Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretense and representation: The origins of “theory of mind.” Psychological Review, 94 (4), 412426.
Lewy, A., & Dawson, G. (1992). Social stimulation and joint attention in young autistic children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 20, 555566.
Loveland, K. A. (1991). Social affordances and interaction II: Autism and the affordances of the human environment. Ecological Psychology, 5 (2), 99119.
Murray, L., & Trevarthen, C. (1985). Emotional regulation of interactions between two-month-olds and their mothers. In Field, T. M. & Fox, N. A. (Eds.), Social perception in infants (pp. 177197). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
O'Connor, N., & Hermelin, B. (1967). The selective visual attention of psychotic children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 167179.
Ornitz, E. M. (1989). Autism at the interface between sensory and information processing. In Dawson, G. (Ed.), Autism: Nature, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 174207). New York: Guilford Press.
Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B., & Rogers, S. (1990). Are there specific emotion perception deficits in young autistic children? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31, 343361.
Prior, M., Dahlstrom, B., & Squires, T. L. (1990). Autistic children's knowledge of thinking and feeling states in other people. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 31, 587601.
Snow, M. E., Hertzig, M. E., & Shapiro, T. (1987). Expression of emotion in young autistic children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 26, 836838.
Walker, A. S., (1982). Intermodal perception of expressive behaviors by human infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 33, 514535.
Walker-Andrews, A. S. (1986). Intermodal perception of expressive behaviors: Relation of eye and voice? Developmental Psychology, 22, 373377.
Walker-Andrews, A. S., Haviland, J. M., Huffman, L., & Toci, L. (1994). Brief Report: Preferential looking in intermodal perception by children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 99107.
Weeks, S. J., & Hobson, R. P. (1987). The salience of facial expression for autistic children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 28, 137151.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed