Reduced set averaging of face identity in children and adolescents with autism

Gillian Rhodes, Markus F Neumann, Louise Ewing, Romina Palermo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals with autism have difficulty abstracting and updating average representations from their diet of faces. These averages function as perceptual norms for coding faces, and poorly calibrated norms may contribute to face recognition difficulties in autism. Another kind of average, known as an ensemble representation, can be abstracted from briefly glimpsed sets of faces. Here we show for the first time that children and adolescents with autism also have difficulty abstracting ensemble representations from sets of faces. On each trial, participants saw a study set of four identities and then indicated whether a test face was present. The test face could be a set average or a set identity, from either the study set or another set. Recognition of set averages was reduced in participants with autism, relative to age- and ability-matched typically developing participants. This difference, which actually represents more accurate responding, indicates weaker set averaging and thus weaker ensemble representations of face identity in autism. Our finding adds to the growing evidence for atypical abstraction of average face representations from experience in autism. Weak ensemble representations may have negative consequences for face processing in autism, given the importance of ensemble representations in dealing with processing capacity limitations.  

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1391-403
Number of pages13
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number7
Early online date16 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Autism
  • Face processing
  • Set averaging
  • Ensemble representations

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