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Face Processing Abilities in Children with Autism

Giovannelli, Joyce Lynne (2006) Face Processing Abilities in Children with Autism. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The current study was comprised of three experiments that examined face processing abilities in children (aged five to seven) diagnosed with high functioning autism as compared to control participants matched on verbal mental age and chronological age. Experiment one examined recognition memory for faces using an implicit memory task in which peripheral cues for identity were removed and distinctiveness of facial stimuli was varied. Experiment two was designed to assess gender identification skills with gender stimuli that varied in the degree of typicality of gender. Experiment three examined the recognition of facial expression of emotion using dynamic stimuli that varied in the degree of expression exhibited, from subtle to exaggerated, as evidenced by increased facial muscle movement. Results indicated children with autism exhibited significantly poorer performance on all three face processing tasks, as compared to controls. Among children with high functioning autism, results of experiment one indicated that they do not capitalize on distinctive features as a way of improving memory for faces. Results of experiment two indicated that, as compared to controls, children with autism exhibited more difficulty discriminating gender, even with typical exemplars of gender. Results of experiment three suggest that children with autism found it more difficult to identify dynamic representations of facial expressions of emotion when the expressions were more subtle in presentation. Although children with autism exhibited significantly poorer performance on all three tasks, they were still able to perform at a level above chance, indicating that by the ages of five to seven, children with autism were able to process facial information, although they were developmentally delayed when compared with controls. These results are discussed in the context of several current theories of autism and the literature of both autism and typically-developing face processing abilities.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Giovannelli, Joyce Lynnejlgst58@pitt.eduJLGST58
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairStrauss, Mark Sstrauss@pitt.eduSTRAUSS
Committee MemberJohnson, Carl Njohnson@pitt.eduJOHNSON
Committee MemberShaw, Daniel Scasey@pitt.eduCASEY
Committee MemberIverson, Jana Mjiverson@pitt.eduJIVERSON
Committee MemberCampbell, Susan Bsbcamp@pitt.eduSBCAMP
Date: 1 June 2006
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 24 March 2006
Approval Date: 1 June 2006
Submission Date: 24 April 2006
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: cognitive theories of autism; face-space model; social-cognitive development
Other ID:, etd-04242006-200008
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:41
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:42


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