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Impaired Facial Recognition Linked to Social Problems in Autism

Impaired Facial Recognition Linked to Social Problems in Autism

BRISTOL, England, Aug. 30 -- Autistic children have an impaired ability to place unfamiliar faces in memory, possibly explaining some of the social difficulties associated with the disorder, investigators here concluded.

Specifically, children with autism have difficulty with face identity aftereffect, the ability to fix in memory faces that are polar opposites of familiar faces, Elizabeth Pellicano, Ph.D., of the University of Bristol, and colleagues reported online and in the September issue of Current Biology.

The human brain seemingly has the ability to encode new faces in a "face space," Dr. Pellicano explained. Average or typical faces are in the center of the space. More distinctive faces lie toward the periphery, making them easier to distinguish from faces that are closer to average.

In people with normal face recognition abilities, she continued, the brain automatically places a new face in the face space on the basis of deviations from the average.

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