The influence of autism-like traits on cheek biases for the expression and perception of happiness Academic Article uri icon


  • People with autism show attenuated cerebral lateralisation for emotion processing. Given growing appreciation of the notion that autism represents a continuum, the present study aimed to determine whether atypical hemispheric lateralisation is evident in people with normal but above average levels of autism-like traits. One hundred and twenty-seven right-handed participants (M=43, F=84) completed the AQ questionnaire (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001), and then (a) posed for a photo expressing happiness, and (b) viewed pairs of left and right cheek poses, making a forced-choice decision indicating which image appeared happier (half the images were mirror-reversed to control for perceptual biases). Results indicated that irrespective of AQ status, people were intuitively aware that the left cheek is more emotionally expressive: participants offered the left cheek when posing to appear happy, and perceived left poses as happier than right poses. As the left cheek is predominantly controlled by the right hemisphere, these findings strongly support the right hemisphere hypothesis. The fact that people with normal but above average levels of autism-like traits did not show a reduced leftward bias for either task indicates that the attenuated emotion lateralisation pattern noted in the clinical population does not extend into the normal spectrum. Instead, the results suggest that people with normal but above average levels of AQ traits are as sensitive to the silent social/emotional cues signalled by a left cheek pose as those with lower AQ scores.

publication date

  • October 2011