- Preferential awareness of protofacial stimuli in autism
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- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
It has been suggested that a subcortically mediated, innate sensitivity to protofacial stimuli leads to specialized face processing and to the development of the social brain. A dysfunction of this face-processing pathway has been associated with atypical social development in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This study investigated whether individuals with ASD exhibit primary sensitivity to monochrome protoface stimuli using continuous flash suppression (CFS). Under CFS, visual stimuli are suppressed from awareness, and cortical processing is strongly reduced while subcortical regions continue to respond to invisible stimuli. We found that both adolescents with ASD and typically developing adolescents showed preferential detection of upright protoface stimuli under CFS but not in a non-CFS control condition. These results challenge the notion that a primitive sensitivity to protoface stimuli is essential for typical social development. Rather, our findings suggest such sensitivity is not a sufficient condition for typical social development and that the presence of other complementary factors is necessary for the development of the social brain.
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