ERP responses differentiate inverted but not upright face processing in adults with ASD

Sara Jane Webb, Kristen Merkle, Michael Murias, Todd Richards, Elizabeth Aylward, Geraldine Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have documented deficits in face processing, face memory and abnormal activation of the neural circuitry that supports these functions. To examine speed of processing of faces in ASD, high density event-related brain potentials were recorded to images of faces, inverted faces and non-face objects from 32 high-functioning adults with ASD and controls. Participants were instructed to focus on a cross hair prior to stimulus onset; the cross-hair location directed the participant's eye gaze to the eye region at stimulus onset. Although the ASD group preformed more poorly on behavioral tests of face and object memory, both groups demonstrated similar ERP responses, characterized by greater (positive) P1 and (negative) N170 amplitude to faces vs houses. N170 speed of processing to faces did not differ between groups. However, only the control group demonstrated differential responses to upright vs inverted faces. For the ASD group, the differential response to inverted vs upright faces was associated with better performance on face memory and self-reported social skills. It is possible that the use of attention cues may facilitate face processing in high-functioning adults with ASD, suggesting that the underlying neural circuitry can be activated in adults with ASD under specific demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsp002
Pages (from-to)578-587
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Event-related potential
  • Face processing
  • N170
  • P100

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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