Altered neurophysiological responses to emotional faces discriminate children with ASD, ADHD and ASD+ADHD

Charlotte Tye, Marco Battaglia, Eleonora Bertoletti, Karen L Ashwood, Bahare Azadi, Philip Asherson, Patrick Bolton, Grainne McLoughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


There are high rates of overlap between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Emotional impairment in the two disorders, however, has not been directly compared using event-related potentials (ERPs) that are able to measure distinct temporal stages in emotional processing. The N170 and N400 ERP components were measured during presentation of emotional face stimuli to boys with ASD (n=19), ADHD (n=18), comorbid ASD+ADHD (n=29) and typically developing controls (n=26). Subjects with ASD (ASD/ASD+ADHD) displayed reduced N170 amplitude across all stimuli, particularly for fearful versus neutral facial expressions. Conversely, subjects with ADHD (ADHD/ASD+ADHD) demonstrated reduced modulation of N400 amplitude by fearful expressions in parietal scalp regions and happy facial expressions in central scalp regions. These findings indicate a dissociation between disorders on the basis of distinct stages of emotion processing; while children with ASD show alterations at the structural encoding stage, children with ADHD display abnormality at the contextual processing stage. The comorbid ASD+ADHD group presents as an additive condition with the unique deficits of both disorders. This supports the use of objective neural measurement of emotional processing to delineate pathophysiological mechanisms in complex overlapping disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-134
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number0
Early online date30 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


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