High spatial frequency information in primes hastens happy faces categorization in autistic adults
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Description: Where does the remarkable human ability to quickly identify facial emotion come from? Coarse-to-Fine integration of visual information may play a critical role. Coarse information of a visual stimulus is conveyed by Low Spatial Frequencies (LSF) and is thought to be rapidly extracted to generate predictions. This may guide inhibition of irrelevant information and facilitate fast recognition with the subsequent integration of fine information, conveyed by High Spatial Frequencies (HSF). In autism, emotional face recognition is challenging and may contribute to socio-emotional difficulties. It has been suggested that perceptual changes, such as a bias toward HSF or a reduced LSF processing, could partly explain atypical face processing in autism. However, alterations in predictive processes related to LSF have not been investigated so far. Here, we analyzed the data of 27 autistic adults and 34 matched typically developing (TD) controls on an emotional Stroop task (i.e., emotional face with congruent or incongruent emotional word) with spatially filtered primes (HSF vs. LSF). We hypothesized that LSF primes would generate predictions leading to faster categorization of the target face stimulus in the context of incongruent information, compared to HSF primes, in the control group but not in the autistic group. Surprisingly, HSF primes led to faster categorization than LSF primes in both groups and irrespective of the congruency. Moreover, whereas the advantage of HSF vs. LSF primes was stronger for angry than happy faces in the control group, it was stronger for happy than angry faces in autistic participants. Additional exploratory analyses using drift diffusion modelling confirmed HSF advantage for achieving the task and showed a longer non-decision time (i.e., encoding and motor response) in autism compared to control. Our main hypothesis of predictive impairments in autism in relation to LSF was not corroborated by our data. However, our analyses suggest specificities in autistic individuals according to the type of emotion processed and in the slower non-decision-related processes.