Arousal is one of the dimensions of core affect and frequently used to describe experienced or observed emotional states. While arousal ratings of facial expressions are collected in many studies it is not well understood how arousal is displayed in or interpreted from facial expressions. In the context of socioemotional disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, this poses the question of a differential use of facial information for arousal perception. In this study, we demonstrate how automated face-tracking tools can be used to extract predictors of arousal judgments. We find moderate to strong correlations among all measures of static information on one hand and all measures of dynamic information on the other. Based on these results, we tested two measures, average distance to the neutral face and average facial movement speed, within and between neurotypical individuals (N = 401) and individuals with autism (N = 19). Distance to the neutral face was predictive of arousal in both groups. Lower mean arousal ratings were found for the autistic group, but no difference in correlation of the measures and arousal ratings could be found between groups. Results were replicated in an high autistic traits group. The findings suggest a qualitatively similar perception of arousal for individuals with and without autism. No correlations between valence ratings and any of the measures could be found, emphasizing the specificity of our tested measures. Distance and speed predictors share variability and thus speed should not be discarded as a predictor of arousal ratings.
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