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Emotion Facial Processing in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Study of the Impact of Service Dogs

By N. Dollion, M. Grandgeorge, D. Saint-Amour, A. Hosein Poitras Loewen, N. François, N. M. G. Fontaine, N. Champagne, P. Plusquellec

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Processing and recognizing facial expressions are key factors in human social interaction. Past research suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) present difficulties to decode facial expressions. Those difficulties are notably attributed to altered strategies in the visual scanning of expressive faces. Numerous studies have demonstrated the multiple benefits of exposure to pet dogs and service dogs on the interaction skills and psychosocial development of children with ASD. However, no study has investigated if those benefits also extend to the processing of facial expressions. The aim of this study was to investigate if having a service dog had an influence on facial expression processing skills of children with ASD. Two groups of 15 children with ASD, with and without a service dog, were compared using a facial expression recognition computer task while their ocular movements were measured using an eye-tracker. While the two groups did not differ in their accuracy and reaction time, results highlighted that children with ASD owning a service dog directed less attention toward areas that were not relevant to facial expression processing. They also displayed a more differentiated scanning of relevant facial features according to the displayed emotion (i.e., they spent more time on the mouth for joy than for anger, and vice versa for the eyes area). Results from the present study suggest that having a service dog and interacting with it on a daily basis may promote the development of specific visual exploration strategies for the processing of human faces.

Date 2022
Publication Title Front Psychol
Volume 13
Pages 869452
ISBN/ISSN 1664-1078 (Print)1664-1078
DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.869452
Author Address Univ Rennes, Normandie Univ., CNRS, EthoS (Éthologie Animale et Humaine) - UMR 6552, Rennes, France.Laboratoire d'Observation et d'Éthologie Humaine du Québec, Montréal Mental Health University Institute, Centre Intégré Universitaire de Santé et de Services Sociaux de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal (CIUSSS Est), Montréal, QC, Canada.School of Psychoeducation, University of Montreal, Montréal, QC, Canada.Mira Foundation Inc., Sainte-Madeleine, QC, Canada.Department of Psychology, Centre de Recherche en Neuroscience Cognitives, NeuroQAM, Université du Quebec à Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.School of Criminology, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherche sur le Cerveau et l'Apprentissage, University of Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Autism
  2. Conflict
  3. Emotions
  4. Eyes
  5. Face
  6. open access
  7. Service animals
  1. open access