Background. Autism and schizophrenia are considered to be substantially influenced by genetic factors. The endophenotype of both disorders probably also includes deficits in affect perception. The objective of this study was to examine the capacity to detect facially expressed emotion in autistic and schizophrenic subjects, their parents and siblings.
Method. Thirty-five subjects with autism and 102 of their relatives, 21 schizophrenic subjects and 46 relatives from simplex (one child affected) and multiplex (more than one child affected) families, as well as an unaffected control sample consisting of 22 probands completed a 50-item computer-based test to assess the ability to recognize basic emotions.
Results. The autistic subjects showed a poorer performance on the facial recognition test than did the schizophrenic and the unaffected individuals. In addition, there was a tendency for subjects from multiplex families with autistic loading to score lower on the test than individuals from simplex families with autistic loading. Schizophrenic subjects and their relatives as well as siblings and parents of autistic subjects did not differ from the sample of unaffected subjects in their ability to judge facial affect.
Conclusions. Findings corroborate the assumption that emotion detection deficits are part of the endophenotype of autism. In families with autistic children, the extent of facial recognition deficits probably indexes an elevation in familial burden. It seems unlikely that problems in emotion perception form a consistent part of the endophenotype of schizophrenia or the broader phenotype in relatives of patients with psychosis or autism.