Reduced perceptual specialization in autism: Evidence from the other-race face effect.

Emerging accounts of autism suggest that flexible and broadly tuned perceptual representations, presumably resulting from reduced specialization, may underlie atypical perception. Here, we examined the other-race effect (ORE) to study face processing specialization arising from specific experience with own-race faces. Face discrimination was tested for own- and other-race faces in typically developed individuals and in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For each race, faces were morphed to vary discrimination difficulty, and orientation was manipulated to examine inversion effects. The ASD group displayed overall lower sensitivity and reduced inversion effects in processing faces. Importantly, the processing advantage for own-race faces was substantially smaller in this group, resulting specifically from the reduced specialization for the own-race faces. Moreover, the typical larger inversion effect for Caucasian faces was not observed in the ASD group; sensitivity to orientation was smaller and equivalent for the two face races. These more broadly tuned representations in autism may account for the overall weaker representations of faces and suggest, more broadly, that a failure in perceptual specialization may underlie atypical perception in autism. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)