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BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is classically associated with poor emotional face processing. Few studies, however, have used more ecological dynamic stimuli. We contrasted functional magnetic resonance imaging measures of dynamic emotional face processing in ASD and typically developing (TD) cohorts across a wide age range to determine if the processing and age-related trajectories differed between participants with and without ASD. METHODS: Functional magnetic resonance imaging data collected from 200 participants (5-42 years old; 107 in ASD cohort, 93 in TD cohort) during the presentation of dynamic emotional faces (neutral-to-happy, neutral-to-angry) and dynamic flowers (closed-to-open) were analyzed. Group differences and group-by-age interactions in the faces versus flowers and between emotion contrasts were investigated. RESULTS: Differences in activation between dynamic faces and flowers in occipital regions, including the fusiform gyri, were reduced in the ASD group. Contrasting the two emotions, ASD compared with TD participants showed increased engagement of the precentral, postcentral, and superior temporal gyri to happy faces and increased activation to angry faces occipitally. Emotion processing regions, such as insula, temporal pole, and frontal regions, showed increased recruitment with age to happy faces compared with both angry faces and flowers in the TD group, but decreased recruitment with age in the ASD group. CONCLUSIONS: Using dynamic stimuli, we demonstrated that participants with ASD processed faces similarly to nonface stimuli, and age-related atypicalities were more pronounced to happy faces in participants with ASD. We demonstrated emotion-specific atypicalities in a large group of participants with ASD that underscore persistent difficulties from childhood into mid-adulthood.

Original publication




Journal article


Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging

Publication Date



Autism spectrum disorder, Development, Dynamic stimuli, Emotional faces, Neuroimaging, fMRI