A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Fall, 2016 | Number 4, Volume 30

Mimicry may aid facial emotion recognition

Asking individuals with autistic traits to mimic the facial expressions of others may improve their ability to recognize emotions, a new study indicates. 

Michael Lewis and Emily Dunn administered the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) to young adults without a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to evaluate their level of autism traits. The individuals then participated in two slightly different experiments, the first involving 46 participants and the second involving 60. In each experiment, half of the participants were told to mimic a facial expression they saw before making a judgment about the emotion being exhibited. The other half of the group viewed the facial expressions without receiving any instructions about mimicking them. 

The researchers report that in both experiments, instructing a person to mimic the expression being observed improved facial emotion recognition. Moreover, the improvement was more pronounced for individuals with higher AQ scores (indicating a higher level of autism traits). 

While the study involved individuals without an autism diagnosis, the researchers conclude, “If the benefits of instructions to mimic do extend to people with autism spectrum conditions, then this provides a potential intervention in order to improve social communication and empathy in this group.”


“Instructions to mimic improve facial emotion recognition in people with sub-clinical autism traits,” Michael B. Lewis and Emily Dunn, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, October 13, 2016 (epub prior to print publication). Address: Michael B. Lewis, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT, UK, [email protected].