A new study by Tirta Susilo and colleagues finds that effects of face recognition impairments on social motivation are limited and might not explain low social motivation in Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The study suggests that any effects of face recognition impairments on social motivation are limited in nature and unlikely to account for low social motivation in ASD.
According to the social motivation hypothesis, low social motivation and impairments in face processing are implicated in the development of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The face deficits are thought to come about, in part, due to low social motivation and disruption of visual experience necessary for the development of expert face recognition (Chevallier et al., 2012; Schultz, 2005; Oruc et al., 2018). Conversely, impaired face abilities in autism may be a cause rather than a consequence of lowered social motivation. To examine the directionality of this potential relationship further, we examined adults with developmental prosopagnosia (DP), adults with ASD, and a neurotypical control group. We used the Cambridge Face Memory Test (Duchaine & Nakayama, 2006) to assess face recognition, and the Multidimensional Social Competence Scale (Yager & Iarocci, 2013) to assess social motivation.
There was a significant main effect of group (F(2,86) = 43.19, p < .001) where face recognition accuracy was highest in controls (M = 81.9%), significantly reduced in ASD (M = 66.5%) and lowest in DP (50.18%) (p<.05 for all comparisons). A main effect of group was also found for social motivation (F(2,86) = 11.67, p < 0.001), which was highest in controls (M = 40.33), but did not differ significantly between ASD (M = 31.82) and DP (M = 34.04) groups.
Reduced social motivation in the DP group compared to the controls suggest that deficits in face recognition may contribute to low social motivation in this group. Yet, greater severity of face deficits in the DP group, compared to the ASD group, do not lead to further reductions in social motivation. Together, these results suggest that any effects of face recognition impairments on social motivation are limited in nature and unlikely to account for low social motivation in ASD.
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