Speed and accuracy of emotion recognition in autistic adults: The role of stimulus type, response format, and emotion

Marie Antonia Georgopoulos, Neil Brewer, Carmen A. Lucas, Robyn L. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


Emotion recognition difficulties are considered to contribute to social-communicative problems for autistic individuals. Prior research has been dominated by a focus on forced-choice recognition response accuracy for static face presentations of basic emotions, often involving small samples. Using free-report and multiple-choice response formats, we compared emotion recognition in IQ-matched autistic (N = 63) and nonautistic (N = 67) adult samples using 12 face emotion stimuli presented in three different stimulus formats (static, dynamic, social) that varied the degree of accompanying contextual information. Percent agreement with normative recognition responses (usually labeled “recognition accuracy”) was slightly lower for autistic adults. Both groups displayed marked inter-individual variability and, although there was considerable overlap between groups, a very small subset of autistic individuals recorded lower percent agreement than any of the nonautistic sample. Overall, autistic individuals were significantly slower to respond and less confident. Although stimulus type, response format, and emotion affected percent agreement, latency and confidence, their interactions with group were nonsignificant and the associated effect sizes extremely small. The findings challenge notions that autistic adults have core deficits in emotion recognition and are more likely than nonautistic adults to be overwhelmed by increasingly dynamic or complex emotion stimuli and to experience difficulties recognizing specific emotions. Suggested research priorities include clarifying whether longer recognition latencies reflect fundamental processing limitations or adjustable strategic influences, probing age-related changes in emotion recognition across adulthood, and identifying the links between difficulties highlighted by traditional emotion recognition paradigms and real-world social functioning. Lay Summary: It is generally considered that autistic individuals are less accurate than nonautistic individuals at recognizing other people's facial emotions. Using a wide array of emotions presented in various contexts, this study suggests that autistic individuals are, on average, only slightly less accurate but at the same time somewhat slower when classifying others' emotions. However, there was considerable overlap between the two groups, and great variability between individuals. The differences between groups prevailed regardless of how stimuli were presented, the response required or the particular emotion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1686-1697
Number of pages12
JournalAutism Research
Issue number9
Early online date26 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


  • autistic adults
  • autism
  • Emotion recognition
  • social-communicative problems
  • confidence
  • latency
  • accuracy
  • emotion recognition


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