Association between amygdala response to emotional faces and social anxiety in autism spectrum disorders

Natalia M. Kleinhans, Todd Richards, Kurt Weaver, L. Clark Johnson, Jessica Greenson, Geraldine Dawson, Elizabeth Aylward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Difficulty interpreting facial expressions has been reported in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and is thought to be associated with amygdala abnormalities. To further explore the neural basis of abnormal emotional face processing in ASD, we conducted an fMRI study of emotional face matching in high-functioning adults with ASD and age, IQ, and gender matched controls. In addition, we investigated whether there was a relationship between self-reported social anxiety and fMRI activation. During fMRI scanning, study participants were instructed to match facial expressions depicting fear or anger. The control condition was a comparable shape-matching task. The control group evidenced significantly increased left prefrontal activation and decreased activation in the occipital lobes compared to the ASD group during emotional face matching. Further, within the ASD group, greater social anxiety was associated with increased activation in right amygdala and left middle temporal gyrus, and decreased activation in the fusiform face area. These results indicate that level of social anxiety mediates the neural response to emotional face perception in ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3665-3670
Number of pages6
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala
  • Anxiety
  • Asperger's disorder
  • Autism
  • Emotional face processing
  • Fusiform face area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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