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Jim TanakaAsk the Scientist:

Featured Scientist: Jim Tanaka, Professor, University of Victoria
Email: jtanaka@uvic.ca, TDLC Member, Perceptual Expertise Network

What is "The LFI! Hierarchical Model of Facial Processing" and how does the Let's Face It! program help autistic children with the different domains of this model?

The LFI! model breaks down face processing into three sequential, inter-connected skill domains. According to the model, facial processing begins with the ability to attend to faces over other objects in the visual environment (Domain I). Once attention is directed to the face, information about the person's identity and their emotional state (Domain II) is acquired. Finally, identity and expression are key components for understanding facial cues in a social context (Domain III).

We apply this simple model to better understand and improve the face processing skills of children with autism who sometimes struggle to recognize the identity and expression of a face. Following the model, we designed the Let's Face It! computer program that guides the child through a series of exercises emphasizing attention to faces, recognition of facial identity and emotion and understanding the meaning of facial cues in a social context. In a recent randomized clinical trial published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology (Tanaka et al., 2010), we found that children who played the Let's Face It! program for a minimum of 20 hours showed small, but consistent gains in their ability to use eye information in face recognition. The Let's Face It! program can be downloaded free-of-charge from our website.

At the TDLC, we have joined forces with Dr. Marni Bartlett and the Machine Perception Lab at UCSD. Using their state-of-the-art Computer Expression Recognition Toolbox, we have the opportunity to create exciting, interactive games that interpret facial expressions in real time via webcam input. In SmileMaze, for example, the player overcomes obstacles in a labyrinth by producing smiles that are registered on the Smile-o-Meter. In Face-Face-Revolution, the player mimics a facial expression in synchrony to a disco beat. With these technological innovations, we hope to develop new treatments in autism that make the giant leap from the computer screen to the real world of social engagement. For more information, please see the Let's Face It! website

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