Atypically slow processing of faces and non-faces in older autistic adults

Joe Bathelt, P. Cédric Koolschijn, Hilde M. Geurts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Face recognition is a fundamental function that requires holistic processing. Differences in face processing have been consistently identified in autistic children, but it is unknown whether these differences persist across the adult lifespan. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging, we measured holistic face processing with a rapid Mooney faces task in 50 autistic and 49 non-autistic participants (30–74 years). Behavioral tasks included a self-paced version of the same paradigm and a global–local processing task (Navon). Reduced detection rates for faces, but not non-faces, were found in autistic adults, including slower responses on all conditions. Without time constraints, differences in accuracy disappeared between groups, although reaction times in correctly identifying faces remained higher in autistic adults. The functional magnetic resonance imaging results showed lower activation in the left and right superior frontal gyrus in the autism group but no age-related differences. Overall, our findings point toward slower information processing speed rather than a face recognition deficit in autistic adults. This suggests that face-processing differences are not a core feature of autism across the adult lifespan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Dec 2021


  • aging
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • face processing
  • functional MRI
  • reaction time

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