Reading the mind in the eyes eyes not so difficult for HFA.

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Falo
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25 May 2013, 2:12 am

About me (very briefly): I live in French speaking Europe and my native language is French (so excuse my English mistakes).
I might have some form of mild autism: I was a kid in the 70's, as a child I didn't interact with other kids staying almost always alone, had motor mannerisms. The teacher at school noticed that and let me pass psychiatric (psychological?) tests, probably believing I was retarded. But they did check my supposed retardation with an IQ test that gave above average result, so I was allowed to pursue normal schooling without further support. In the 70's the only known form of autism was extreme autism with mental retardation. I still have some symptoms now.

My main question is about the "reading the mind in the eyes test". My score is awful 17 or 18 (17, then 18 the newt day). Apparently much lower than the average autistic people. But what puzzled me is that High Functionning Autistic people do not fail that test. The paper [The "reading the mind in the Eyes" Test revised Version: A study with Normal Adults...] (sorry new members cannot post hyperlinks, but it is easily found with Google) gives an average 21.9 score for HFA and 26.2 for NT. This is only 4 points in 36 questions and if you read the paper many NT do less than the average 21.9 of HFA people. This 4 points difference out of 36 questions cannot explain that HFA do not have a theory of mind, have difficulties to interpret body language, etc... In fact these scores even seem to refute it. 4 points less out of 36 questions is just slightly less than the average. You will not tell me that you have a brain wired differently that need to be mentionned in the DSM for just a so small difference, it just does not make sense. Either HFA is a fad and these people are perfectly healthy (or have other conditions such as depression, low self esteem, etc.), or the problem does not consists in interpreting body language or this test just do not test anything at all. I would like to have your opinion. Almost all comments I have read seems to make a great case of this small 4 points difference.



tall-p
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25 May 2013, 2:38 am

It is a multiple choice test. So you toss out the two absurd answers, and then study carefully. Maybe I just got lucky.


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25 May 2013, 3:21 am

This is just the average score for people who self-reported as having HFA.
1. Self-reporting: Not everyone who thinks they have HFA really does. Many people are able to accurately self-diagnose; many people are probably mistaken. There's no way to judge based on online tests like this.
2. Average score: Everyone is different. Some people have trouble with eyes and some people don't. Some people have horrible sensory issues and some people don't. Some people are highly verbal, some hardly speak (even with HFA or AS). Taking the average score of all these people is likely to be somewhere in the middle, close to NT definitions of normal, but each individual has their own problems which can be very extreme.

Also, reading eye contact is just one small part of autism, including HFA. A person with HFA might have no difficulty reading eyes but have extreme sensory issues or difficulty communicating verbally.

EDIT: I just took the test and I don't think it's an accurate assessment. The possible answers for each one are so different that it's quite easy to toss most of them out immediately unless you have extremely severe difficulty reading eyes. If you had to choose between answers that were more similar, you might see lower scores.

For each question I looked at the eyes first and decided what emotion I thought they were conveying. Then I looked at the list of options and most of the time, my choice was not there. However, of the possible choices, one of them was much closer to my guess than the others. Most of the time it turned out to be correct. Does this mean, since I got a good score, that I don't have difficulty reading eyes? No. I still got the wrong answer for most of them on my own. But when given a list of possibilities, I was able to guess right most of the time.

One example: I look at a woman's eyes and guess she is calculating. She looks to me like she is a sniper preparing to hit a target. I look down. The possible options are: fantasizing, alarmed, aghast, impatient. Obviously I am not even close with my assessment. So I look at each word, then back at the eyes, and consider whether one of these might be accurate. I settle on "fantasizing," mostly based on the makeup around her eyes. It turns out to be correct. Does this mean I have no trouble reading eyes?

In real life, when someone looks at you, they don't give you a list of the possible things they might be feeling. You just have to guess on your own. I almost always guess wrong. Aggression and desire look very similar, but making a mistake here can be very dangerous.



The_Hemulen
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25 May 2013, 3:39 am

I am very good at this test but have very little ability to interpret facial expressions in real life. In real life, people move around, their face changes through all sorts of small expressions, their expressions are modulated by other things that they do and generally the expressions are not as easily to categorise as those in this test. Also, I have trouble paying attention to the face due to eye contact issues and being distracted by other aspects of the person's behaviour or distractions in the environment. Even if I can identify some facial expressions, I then often can't work out why they would be making that facial expression so the information is not very useful.



kotshka
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25 May 2013, 3:45 am

My ability to process facial expressions is generally limited to whether their intentions are extroverted or introverted, and whether they are benign or aggressive. So a happy person could be either extro or introverted, but benign. An angry person is extroverted and aggressive, but so is a person who is flirting. Add to that the fact that I am extremely uncomfortable with eye contact, especially with women, and tend to see aggression as negative even when it's intended to be positive (someone trying to joke or flirt, for example, I tend to see as being angry), and I end up with serious problems interacting with people and reading their expressions.

But on this test I got a 28, mostly by guessing. It's not a good test at all. Most of my answers were more dependent on the angle of the person's eyes in the photo and their gender than by the cues people normally use.

Take the results with a grain of salt is my advice.



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25 May 2013, 1:22 pm

The average score is only a bit lower, but about half of HFA/AS score below the lowest-scoring NT.

The other half may be fine at this particular aspect of social cue reading, or else able to fake their way through a non-timed multiple choice question even though they can't read that stuff in real life. (I'm in the latter group, mostly.) The 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' test kind of sucks. I don't why it's so popular, there are plenty of better facial expression tests in the research literature.



Falo
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25 May 2013, 3:01 pm

Well thank you for your answers. I must be terribly bad, because even with the multiple choices, even some "obviously" wrong choices are not obvious to me. I was even pleasantly surprised of my 17-18 score because I could see almost nothing at all in these eyes.

Now, am I on the spectrum? I don't know but I might be (see my first post) I won't be diagnosed for various reasons that I could explain in another post. I have the feeling that I am better in real life because we have much more information: whole face (and body), body movement, the pinch of the voice, the content of what the person is saying, etc... Now, I never really try to guess what a person does secretly have in mind but I do not feel so bad at interpreting what a person is trying to tell me (including non verbal information). But guessing what a person tries to hide is something difficult. I doubt most NT people can do it so easily (otherwise, why trying to make sophisticated lye detectors?).

@Ettina. If you read the paper in my first post carefully, you will see that the lowest NT score is about 17-18, apparently few HFA people score lower (less than the half).

@kotshka. The 21.9 score is according to the paper the average score of people having been diagnosed on the spectrum. Not just for persons that self report.

A question to people reporting difficulties in real life. Could you elaborate a little more. Is it really an embarrasing situation or a situation where many NT people wouln't have understood either.



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25 May 2013, 6:40 pm

Quote:
A question to people reporting difficulties in real life. Could you elaborate a little more. Is it really an embarrasing situation or a situation where many NT people wouln't have understood either.


Well, I don't feel embarrassment, but basically things where everyone else seems to know something that I didn't know. I've often checked it out with my parents and they saw something that took me by surprise. Also, when watching movies, my parents see nonverbal cues that I miss.



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26 May 2013, 5:21 am

I tend to categorise a lot of negative facial expressions into angry, but if you then ask them if they are angry the answer usually seems to be no. Mostly I just have no idea how other people are feeling about things. I'm not sure how far this differs from NTs. I also have problems where people are making faces that look like one thing but it's hiding another. For example, when I went to see Harry Potter 7 in the cinema with my family, I kept getting hysterical giggling fits because I thought Voldemort seemed really happy and friendly because he kept smiling a lot. My family then explained the smiling often meant something else, I can't remember what now. I still get the giggles when I watch that film. :P



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26 May 2013, 5:47 am

I'm good at that test. I really don't think it's an accurate test for people on the spectrum. Life isn't like those expressions. Most of them are quite exaggerated, the expressions are in B&W on flat paper and real life is a real live face, constantly moving and the expression has to be married with the tone of voice and other body language as well as the situation. Then you have to take into account if someone is joking or being sarcastic in their use of the emotion.

I do think that there is a lot in the Intense World Theory of autism: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010743/

http://www.wrongplanet.net/article419.html

Which means that we are hyper aware of everything, which would include peoples' emotions and expressions, this is why many autistics cannot handle eye contact as they need to shut out the input, and if you regularly avoid eye contact you will be less aware of the meaning of expressions (or perhaps less willing to acknowledge them due to it being overwhelming) and therefore may "fail" the reading the mind in the eyes test.

I also agree, that being multiple choice, many of the answers are ridiculous and I also found that many of the "right" answers didn't fit so I just had to choose it being based on it being the least ridiculous one.


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26 May 2013, 12:53 pm

whirlingmind wrote:
I'm good at that test. I really don't think it's an accurate test for people on the spectrum. Life isn't like those expressions. Most of them are quite exaggerated, the expressions are in B&W on flat paper and real life is a real live face, constantly moving and the expression has to be married with the tone of voice and other body language as well as the situation. Then you have to take into account if someone is joking or being sarcastic in their use of the emotion.

I do think that there is a lot in the Intense World Theory of autism: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010743/

http://www.wrongplanet.net/article419.html

Which means that we are hyper aware of everything, which would include peoples' emotions and expressions, this is why many autistics cannot handle eye contact as they need to shut out the input, and if you regularly avoid eye contact you will be less aware of the meaning of expressions (or perhaps less willing to acknowledge them due to it being overwhelming) and therefore may "fail" the reading the mind in the eyes test.

I also agree, that being multiple choice, many of the answers are ridiculous and I also found that many of the "right" answers didn't fit so I just had to choose it being based on it being the least ridiculous one.


More likely it seems there is more than one "type" of autism. There is a high degree of scatter in the AS/HFA population with some being more sensitive than average and a lot being much less sensitive than average. If one connects the dots all of us fit into a similar general pattern, but there are big exceptions as well -- especially for those individuals on the milder end.



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26 May 2013, 2:17 pm

Back when I took it, I scored higher than average, then stopped and contemplated why I almost never pick up other people's emotions in real-life interactions. It probably comes down to my inability to sustain mutual eye contact long enough to gather data. In fact, I'm normally fidgeting so much that all I take in are the words they say and the most obvious inflection. I'm also keenly aware that even when I know exactly how a person feels (e.g. through reading their blog), I still have a greater chance of winning the lottery than determining the appropriate thing to say to them, and that cripples me to the point where I don't care about all the subtle data I won't know what to do with in the first place--especially at the expense of hearing the literal words, which might contain something I can act on. "Please photocopy this document" doesn't require emotion-reading to answer correctly, nor would it even be practical to block out the audio channel in order to process the visual emotive content.
Once I had nothing better to do and stared at my mother's face while she was talking to someone else. All the tiny muscles kept changing second by second. It looked like it must have meant something, though I can't imagine how someone could compute all those tiny sub-meanings. Even if I could have locked onto the eyes, it was changing too quickly. Cartoon characters don't have that degree of subtlety. I think that's why I stick to drawing cartoon people.

Also, as other people pointed out, the test is multiple choice with a reasonable amount of clearly incorrect choices.



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26 May 2013, 2:26 pm

Glasskitten wrote:
Back when I took it, I scored higher than average, then stopped and contemplated why I almost never pick up other people's emotions in real-life interactions. It probably comes down to my inability to sustain mutual eye contact long enough to gather data. In fact, I'm normally fidgeting so much that all I take in are the words they say and the most obvious inflection. I'm also keenly aware that even when I know exactly how a person feels (e.g. through reading their blog), I still have a greater chance of winning the lottery than determining the appropriate thing to say to them, and that cripples me to the point where I don't care about all the subtle data I won't know what to do with in the first place--especially at the expense of hearing the literal words, which might contain something I can act on. "Please photocopy this document" doesn't require emotion-reading to answer correctly, nor would it even be practical to block out the audio channel in order to process the visual emotive content.
Once I had nothing better to do and stared at my mother's face while she was talking to someone else. All the tiny muscles kept changing second by second. It looked like it must have meant something, though I can't imagine how someone could compute all those tiny sub-meanings. Even if I could have locked onto the eyes, it was changing too quickly. Cartoon characters don't have that degree of subtlety. I think that's why I stick to drawing cartoon people.

Also, as other people pointed out, the test is multiple choice with a reasonable amount of clearly incorrect choices.


For me paying too close attention to subtle expressions and body language creates a feeling of paranoia, especially if I'm sensing possible mixed feelings. I need to filter out that subconscious stuff to focus on communicating what I want to say. Otherwise I'll miss my chance.



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26 May 2013, 2:44 pm

whirlingmind wrote:
I'm good at that test. I really don't think it's an accurate test for people on the spectrum. Life isn't like those expressions. Most of them are quite exaggerated, the expressions are in B&W on flat paper and real life is a real live face, constantly moving and the expression has to be married with the tone of voice and other body language as well as the situation. Then you have to take into account if someone is joking or being sarcastic in their use of the emotion.

I do think that there is a lot in the Intense World Theory of autism: [...]

[...]



Interesting theory and explanation: it is simply because that they do not look in the eyes, that autistic people are less good at this test because they are less trained (but not much less good because they have the same inherited competences on this point).

Although not diagnosed, I can identify myself very much with the description of the Asperger syndrome. I was especially stunned at the book of Attwood which has described traits of my personality that I had previously constated, before I was reading the book. Also the book of Antoine Ouellette ("vivre et composer avec le syndrome d'Asperger") that has been diagnosed and describe in his book a personality that surprisely corresponds to mine. All of these books decribing me, including my childhood, without knowning me have really stunned me.

But I do not identify that much with the other forms of autism. I do not think I am overwhelmed by details I cannot put together. I wonder if Asperger is really a milder form of autism or if it is two different conditions that appear to share some similarities.



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26 May 2013, 8:35 pm

From what I know, it isn't necessarily about reading the eyes eventually. It's about reading the eyes instantly without much thought. For me, I have to deconstruct everything and problem solve in order to decode the emotion. It's not a practical test, and it should probably be timed. Some times my answer isn't there, most times I don't even know, and there are some dead giveaways to me, like the eyes looking away from the camera. Despite my problem solving, I got 19 the first time around.

Too many variables on the web.