Holistic Face Processing in Children and Adults Along the Autism Spectrum as Measured by the Complete Composite Face Test

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Dunsworth, Stephanie
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Mount Saint Vincent University
The current study aimed to investigate the development of holistic face processing in individuals with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To date, the literature is unclear as to whether there are impairments in the way that individuals with ASD process faces holistically and whether any differences are qualitative or quantitative. Holistic processing was assessed by the Complete Composite Face Task (CCFT), the best known experimental paradigm for assessment of holistic processing, in both children and adults with ASD and compared their performance to age-matched control groups of children and adults. The results reveal that holistic processing is evident in adults with ASD but not in children with ASD. In contrast, typically developing children show evidence of holistic processing that remains qualitatively unchanged through to adulthood, only improving quantitatively. This pattern suggests that there is a developmental delay in holistic processing in ASD relative to typically developing individuals, where holistic processing is evident in typically developing children but not in children with ASD. Additionally, holistic processing of a larger magnitude in adults with ASD relative to control adults suggests that while holistic processing is present in ASD by adulthood, it is possible that the type of holistic processing that emerges in ASD is qualitatively different than that in typically developing individuals, as indicated by atypical performance in misaligned trials.
holistic face processing , autism spectrum disorder , complete composite face task