Basic and complex emotion recognition in children with autism: Cross-cultural findings

Shimrit Fridenson-Hayo, Steve Berggren, Amandine Lassalle, Shahar Tal, Delia Pigat, Sven Bölte, Simon Baron-Cohen, Ofer Golan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Background: Children with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) have emotion recognition deficits when tested in different expression modalities (face, voice, body). However, these findings usually focus on basic emotions, using one or two expression modalities. In addition, cultural similarities and differences in emotion recognition patterns in children with ASC have not been explored before. The current study examined the similarities and differences in the recognition of basic and complex emotions by children with ASC and typically developing (TD) controls across three cultures: Israel, Britain, and Sweden. Methods: Fifty-five children with high-functioning ASC, aged 5-9, were compared to 58 TD children. On each site, groups were matched on age, sex, and IQ. Children were tested using four tasks, examining recognition of basic and complex emotions from voice recordings, videos of facial and bodily expressions, and emotional video scenarios including all modalities in context. Results: Compared to their TD peers, children with ASC showed emotion recognition deficits in both basic and complex emotions on all three modalities and their integration in context. Complex emotions were harder to recognize, compared to basic emotions for the entire sample. Cross-cultural agreement was found for all major findings, with minor deviations on the face and body tasks. Conclusions: Our findings highlight the multimodal nature of ER deficits in ASC, which exist for basic as well as complex emotions and are relatively stable cross-culturally. Cross-cultural research has the potential to reveal both autism-specific universal deficits and the role that specific cultures play in the way empathy operates in different countries.

Original languageEnglish
Article number52
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 19 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Author(s).


The research leading to this work has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) under grant agreement no. [289021]. SvB was supported by the Swedish Research Council (Grant No. 523-2009-7054), and SBC was supported by the Autism Research Trust, the MRC, the Wellcome Trust, and the NIHR CLAHRC EoE during the period of this work.

FundersFunder number
Autism Research Trust
Wellcome Trust
Seventh Framework Programme289021
Medical Research CouncilG0600977
National Institute for Health Research


    • Autism spectrum condition
    • Basic emotions
    • Complex emotions
    • Cross-cultural research
    • Emotion recognition


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