The Behavioral and Neural Basis of Emotional Face Processing in Atypically Developing Children and Adolescents
VanMeter, John W
Marsh, Abigail A
The ability to recognize, interpret, and respond appropriately to the affective facial expressions of others is an important component of non-verbal communication; when face-emotion recognition is impaired there can be profound downstream consequences for social competencies such as empathy. This dissertation investigated the behavioral and neurocognitive underpinnings of face-emotion recognition in two developmental disorders--autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and psychopathy--associated with impaired facial affect recognition and dysfunction in empathic behavior. Three studies were conducted: 1) A meta-analysis of explicit face-emotion recognition associated with ASD combined data from 1,545 participants across forty-three studies. The results indicated individuals with ASD have generalized deficits in recognizing facial expressions and that face-emotion recognition abilities develop along a trajectory that differs from typical individuals. 2) Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to investigate face-emotion recognition in children and adolescents with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits, a developmental precursor to adult psychopathy. This study found externalizing behaviors were positively associated with amygdala responses to fearful facial expressions and callous-unemotional traits were negatively associated with amygdala responses to fearful facial expressions. Additionally, amygdala responses mediated the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and proactive aggression. 3) In the same sample of youths with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits, voxel-based morphometry was used to investigate how structural brain differences relate to externalizing behaviors and callous-unemotional traits, and found gray matter volume in several regions including the amygdala was positively associated with callous-unemotional traits. Finally, the results of all three studies were discussed in context of empathic deficits, which are also characteristic of ASD and psychopathy.
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Research on Children and Adolescents With Mental, Behavioral and Developmental Disorders: Mobilizing a National Initiative: Report of a Study Unknown creator (Institute of Medicine (United States). Committee for the Study of Research on Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders, 1990)