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Children with autism don't adapt as readily to unfamiliar faces
Date:8/30/2007

The findings, from a study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Florence, and Western Australia, might help to explain some of the core social deficits associated with the disorder.

The faces we see in the world seem to be unconsciously coded in the brain as points in a face-space, said Elizabeth Pellicano of the University of Bristol. In the middle of that space is the average, or most typical, face, with more distinctive faces lying toward the periphery. Those more distinctive faces are easier to recognize than ones that are closer to average.

When people with normal abilities see a face, their brains automatically locate this new face in face-space on the basis of its deviations from the averageperhaps the face has bushier eyebrows, for example, or a greater distance between the nose and mouth. "The really neat bit is that the precise characteristics of what constitutes an average face are continuously updated based on our experiences in looking at other people," Pellicano explained.

Evidence of that flexibility stems from a phenomenon known as the face identity aftereffect, in which looking at a particular face even briefly biases perception toward people who have the opposite identity, she added. Upon seeing a person with thicker-than-average lips, the observers idea of the typical face accordingly develops somewhat plumper lips. As a result, thinner-lipped people become more distinctive than they would have been before because their lips now differ more from the norm. In practice, such shifting of facial perception occurs for all aspects of a face sim
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Contact: Nancy Wampler
nwampler@cell.com
617-386-2121
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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