Autistic traits are linked to reduced adaptive coding of face identity and selectively poorer face recognition in men but not women

Gillian Rhodes (Lead Author), Linda Jeffery, Libby Taylor, Louise Ewing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Our ability to discriminate and recognize thousands of faces despite their similarity as visual patterns relies on adaptive, norm-based, coding mechanisms that are continuously updated by experience. Reduced adaptive coding of face identity has been proposed as a neurocognitive endophenotype for autism, because it is found in autism and in relatives of individuals with autism. Autistic traits can also extend continuously into the general population, raising the possibility that reduced adaptive coding of face identity may be more generally associated with autistic traits. In the present study, we investigated whether adaptive coding of face identity decreases as autistic traits increase in an undergraduate population. Adaptive coding was measured using face identity aftereffects, and autistic traits were measured using the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and its subscales. We also measured face and car recognition ability to determine whether autistic traits are selectively related to face recognition difficulties. We found that men who scored higher on levels of autistic traits related to social interaction had reduced adaptive coding of face identity. This result is consistent with the idea that atypical adaptive face-coding mechanisms are an endophenotype for autism. Autistic traits were also linked with face-selective recognition difficulties in men. However, there were some unexpected sex differences. In women, autistic traits were linked positively, rather than negatively, with adaptive coding of identity, and were unrelated to face-selective recognition difficulties. These sex differences indicate that autistic traits can have different neurocognitive correlates in men and women and raise the intriguing possibility that endophenotypes of autism can differ in males and females.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2702-2708
Number of pages7
Issue number13
Early online date29 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder
  • Discrimination
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Visual Pattern Recognition
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Young Adult

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