Psychological Medicine

Original Article

Attention bias to faces in Asperger Syndrome: a pictorial emotion Stroop study

a1 Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Article author query
ashwin c   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
wheelwright s   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
baron-cohen s   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Background. Emotional Stroop tasks have shown attention biases of clinical populations towards stimuli related to their condition. Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a neuropsychiatric condition with social and communication deficits, repetitive behaviours and narrow interests. Social deficits are particularly striking, including difficulties in understanding others.

Method. We investigated colour-naming latencies of adults with and without AS to name colours of pictures containing angry facial expressions, neutral expressions or non-social objects. We tested three hypotheses: whether (1) controls show longer colour-naming latencies for angry versus neutral facial expressions with male actors, (2) people with AS show differential latencies across picture types, and (3) differential response latencies persist when photographs contain females.

Results. Controls had longer latencies to pictures of male faces with angry compared to neutral expressions. The AS group did not show longer latencies to angry versus neutral expressions in male faces, instead showing slower latencies to pictures containing any facial expression compared to objects. When pictures contained females, controls no longer showed longer latencies for angry versus neutral expressions. However, the AS group still showed longer latencies to all facial picture types, compared to objects, providing further evidence that faces produce interference effects for this clinical group.

Conclusions. The pictorial emotional Stroop paradigm reveals normal attention biases towards threatening emotional faces. The AS group showed Stroop interference effects to all facial stimuli regardless of expression or sex, suggesting that faces cause disproportionate interference in AS.

c1 Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18b Trumpington Rd, Cambridge CB2 2AH, UK. (Email: