Tag Archives: Diana Weiting Tan

Computer algorithm links facial masculinity to autism

This is certainly an interesting study, and I can’t see any obvious problem with the way it was done, but as with any study of autism, I believe questions about the validity of the diagnosis of autism must raise questions about the validity of any study of people (adults or children) who have been given that diagnosis.

Is autism a coherent, consistent, clearly-defined, clearly-delineated, natural category that explains purported cases better than alternative forms of diagnosis such as medical, genetic or sensory diagnostic categories? I doubt it. Let’s be clear; autism is nothing more than a multi-faceted description of behaviours, none of them unique to autism, and some quite common among people who have intellectual or sensory disability. There’s no biology, medicine or psychophysics in the core definitions of autism. I know of no validated, objective test designed to measure any of the sensory aspects of autism. Sure thing, autism is associated with countless congenital and genetic disorders, but the scientific validity of those categories doesn’t rub-off onto autism as a scientific category.

I’m a skeptic about the category of autism and I also have questions about diagnostic processes relating to autism and related disorders. We know that children who are purely and solely cases of prosopagnosia can be misdiagnosed with autism, and the literature on gifted and talented children includes many claims that the same can happen to G&T kids. I suspect that intelligence levels are a confounding factor in many studies that are supposed to explore autism or a broader autism phenotype, and I question whether the trend of identifying children as autistic when in the past they might have been identified as intellectually disabled was the great step forward that it is supposed to have been. There’s also the fact that the “testosterone theory of autism” has been around for many years now and has been widely popularized. It is certainly possible that parents and clinicians have been influenced to expect to see “autistic” behaviour in children who are perceived as more masculine than their peers, due to facial appearance or other traits. This conceivably could have a flow-on effect of increasing the chances that a boy or girl with masculine features might be identified as autistic, and this could be behind the effect found in this study.

These kinds of doubts are why in this blog I have never explored autism in terms of facial phenotypes or in terms of face perception deficits in any depth or with much interest. It’s not that I don’t see a problem or problems in these cases. I do, but I believe it is probable that one day in the distant future scientists will look back on the history of the sciences of the mind and wonder why we spent so much time and money researching autism, a concept that was a long, dark, gold-paved dead-end in the journey of scientific progress, while disability remained a constant issue.

Computer algorithm links facial masculinity to autism.  25 August 2017.

http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201708259876/international/computer-algorithm-links-facial-masculinity-autism

Hypermasculinised facial morphology in boys and girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder and its association with symptomatology.
Diana Weiting Tan, Syed Zulqarnain Gilani, Murray T. Maybery, Ajmal Mian, Anna Hunt, Mark Walters & Andrew J. O. Whitehouse
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 9348 (2017)
doi:10.1038/s41598-017-09939-y
Received:
06 March 2017
Accepted:
31 July 2017
Published online:
24 August 2017

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09939-y