Significant symptoms of anxiety in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may arise due to impaired emotion recognition. In light of reports showing ASD-specific developmental changes in amygdala volumes, we expanded a previous study of recognition of music-evoked emotions in ASD versus typical controls (CON). We explicitly compared both behavioral and psychophysiological response to music-evoked emotions of children (ages 8-11) and older adolescents (ages 16-18). A total of 91 participants (42 ASD) listened to segments of instrumental music that had been previously validated to evoke happy, sad, or scary emotional valence. We measured accuracy and reaction time while also collecting skin conductance response. The ASD group demonstrated reduced skin conductance response to the emotional music stimuli overall, compared to controls. The younger child groups, regardless of diagnosis showed greater physiological reactivity to scary stimuli than to the other emotions. Analysis of behavioral data demonstrated an interaction of age group and diagnostic group: for scary music, the older control group was more accurate than the younger control group while the opposite pattern was observed for the ASD group. These data suggest disrupted developmental trajectories for integrating physiological and cognitive cues in ASD. This lack of integration may underlie increased feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that are associated with more difficult and less adaptive decision making in ASD.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





autism spectrum disorder, music, anxiety, emotion, development

Included in

Psychology Commons