A large number of computer-based training programs have been developed as an intervention to help individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) improve their facial emotion recognition ability, as well as social skills. However, it is unclear to what extent these facial emotion training programs can produce beneficial, long-lasting, and generalizable results.
Using standard meta-analytic techniques, we investigated the effects of facial emotion training including generalization and maintenance restricted to randomized control trial studies comprising a total of 595 individuals with ASD. Our findings revealed that the intervention resulted in a robust improvement in emotion recognition for individuals receiving training compared with controls. However, while there was also some evidence for generalization of training effects, the small number of studies which conducted follow-ups and assessed social skills reported that improvements were not maintained and there was no evidence for general improvement in social skills.
Overall, the analysis revealed a medium effect size in training improvement indicating that facial emotion training may be an effective method for enhancing emotion recognition skills in ASD although more studies are required to assess maintenance of effects and possible general improvements in social skills. Lay summary Facial emotion training as an intervention may be a potential way to help improve emotion recognition in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however robust empirical support for its efficacy has not been sufficiently established. Here, we conducted a meta-analysis of previous studies to summarize the effects of facial emotion training on ASD.
Our results show that the training produces a robust improvement in subsequent emotion recognition, while maintenance and generalization effects still need further investigation. To date, no experimentally verified improvements in social skills have been reported.
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