Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have different automatic responses to faces than typically developing (TD) individuals. We recorded visual evoked potentials (VEPs) in 10 individuals with high-functioning ASD (HFASD) and 10 TD individuals. Visual stimuli consisted of upright and inverted faces (fearful and neutral) and objects presented subliminally in a backward-masking paradigm. In all participants, the occipital N1 (about 100 ms) and P1 (about 120 ms) peaks were major components of the evoked response. We calculated "subliminal face effect (SFE)" scores by subtracting the N1/P1 amplitudes and latencies of the object stimuli from those of the face stimuli. In the TD group, the SFE score for the N1 amplitude was significantly higher for upright fearful faces but not neutral faces, and this score was insignificant when the stimuli were inverted. In contrast, the N1 amplitude of the HFASD subjects did not show this SFE in the upright orientation. There were no significant group differences in SFE scores for P1 amplitude, latency, or N1 latency. Our findings suggest that individuals with HFASD have altered automatic visual processing for emotional faces within the lower level of the visual cortex. This impairment could be a neural component of the disrupted social cognition observed in individuals with HFASD.
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