Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Autism, Feedback, Contagion, Laughter, Embodied Cognition

Major Advisor

Deborah A Fein, PhD

Associate Advisor

Inge-Marie Eigsti, PhD

Associate Advisor

Letitia Naigles, PhD

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Facial Feedback and Laughter Contagion in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Molly Helt, PhD

University of Connecticut, 2014

We tested sensitivity to facial feedback in 44 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), aged 8-14 years, and 44 typically developing children matched for mental age (6-14), in order to examine whether children with ASD use bodily feedback as an implicit source of information. Specifically, children were asked to view cartoons as they normally would (control condition), and to hold a pencil in their mouth forcing their smiling muscles into activation (feedback condition). The authors also explored the social function of laughter in children with ASD by investigating whether the presence of a caregiver or friend (social condition), or the presence of a laugh track superimposed upon the cartoon (laugh track condition) increased the children’s self-rated enjoyment of cartoons or the amount of positive affect they displayed. Results indicate that whereas typically developing children experienced cartoons as more enjoyable under all three experimental conditions (feedback, social, laugh track) compared with the control condition, children with ASD experienced cartoons as more enjoyable only when viewing them with a caregiver or friend. Furthermore, within the ASD group, a strong relationship between blunted affect and insensitivity to facial feedback emerged, shedding light on the implications of restricted affect in ASD.