A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Summer, 2016 | Number 3, Volume 30

Individuals with ASD react differently to human, robot faces

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) process human faces, but not robot faces, in a different way than neurotypical controls, according to a new study. 

Corinne Jung and colleagues enrolled eight males with ASD and 12 neurotypical male controls in their study. Participants ranged in age from 7 to 36 years, and participants with ASD who were 22 years of age or younger were matched for age with at least one neurotypical control. The researchers used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to analyze participants’ reactions to human and robot faces. 

Jung and her team say, “As predicted, the neurotypical group showed right hemisphere lateralization for the human faces, but the ASD group did not. Remarkably, however, brain activation patterns for the ASD group did not differ from the neurotypical group for the robot faces.” 

The new findings are consistent with studies showing that individuals with ASD often respond better to robots than to humans. “One possible explanation,” the researchers say, “is that individuals with ASD exhibit more lateralized activity for objects and are processing robots more as objects, rather than as people.”


“Atypical asymmetry for processing human and robot faces in autism revealed by fNIRS,” Corinne E. Jung, Lars Strother, David J. Feil-Seifer, and Jeffrey J. Hutsler, PLOS ONE, July 7, 2016 (online). Address: Corrine E. Jung, Department of Psychology, Program in Neuroscience, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, Nevada 89557, [email protected].