Is she still angry? Intact learning but no updating of facial expressions priors in autism

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Autistic people exhibit atypical use of prior information when processing simple perceptual stimuli; yet, it remains unclear whether and how these difficulties in using priors extend to complex social stimuli. Here, we compared autistic people without accompanying intellectual disability and nonautistic people in their ability to acquire an “emotional prior” of a facial expression and update this prior to a different facial expression of the same identity. Participants performed a two-interval same/different discrimination task between two facial expressions. To study the acquisition of the prior, we examined how discrimination was modified by the contraction of the perceived facial expressions toward the average of presented stimuli (i.e., regression to the mean). At first, facial expressions surrounded one average emotional prior (mostly sad or angry), and then the average switched (to mostly angry or sad, accordingly). Autistic people exhibited challenges in facial discrimination, and yet acquired the first prior, demonstrating typical regression-to-the-mean effects. However, unlike nonautistic people, autistic people did not update their perception to the second prior, suggesting they are less flexible in updating an acquired prior of emotional expressions. Our findings shed light on the perception of emotional expressions, one of the most pressing challenges in autism.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • Bayesian perception
  • emotion
  • face perception
  • flexibility
  • implicit
  • prior
  • prior autism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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