This article was originally published here
Eur J Neurosci. 2021 May 17. doi: 10.1111/ejn.15311. Online ahead of print.
Atypical processing of stimulus inputs across a range of sensory modalities in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are widely reported. Sensory processing is known to be influenced by bodily internal states such as physiological arousal and anxiety. Since a sizeable proportion of ASD reportedly have co-morbid anxiety disorder that are linked with dysregulated arousal, we investigated if face-emotion arousal cues, influenced visual sensory sensitivity (indexed by temporal resolution) in ASD (n=20) compared to a matched group of typically-developed individuals (TD, n=21). We asked further if emotion-cued changes in visual sensitivity associated with individual differences in state- and trait-anxiety. Participants reported the laterality of the second of two consecutive Gaussian-blob flashes in a visual temporal order judgment task (v-TOJ), demanding higher-level visual processing. The key manipulation was presenting a task-irrelevant face emotion cue briefly at unexpected time points preceding the task-relevant flashes. Disgust vs Neutral emotion signals significantly enhanced the visual temporal resolution in ASD. Individual state-anxiety scores showed a fair correlative trend of with the emotion-cued changes of temporal resolution (Disgust vs Neutral) in ASD but missed statistical significance. Both these effects were absent in TD. The results show that individual state-anxiety levels likely modulate the effect of emotions on visual temporal sensitivity in ASD. The findings support a nuanced approach to understand the disparate sensory features in ASD, by factoring in the interplay of the individual reactivity to environmental affective information and the severity of anxiety.