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Social cognition and executive control in typical development and high-functioning autism spectrum disorder

Gökçen, Elif; (2020) Social cognition and executive control in typical development and high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Social cognition and executive function are core components of adaptive social behaviour and follow a protracted developmental course. Importantly, deficits in both processes have been hypothesised to play causal role in the social difficulties characterising autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite substantial advances in the field, a number of important gaps have yet to be fully addressed. This thesis set out to empirically examine five outstanding research questions using data drawn from typically developing adults and adolescents, and a sample of adults diagnosed with high-functioning ASD. Findings revealed evidence of age-related improvements in multiple domains of social cognition and executive control between middle adolescence and young adulthood (Chapter 2). Typically developing adults and adolescents with elevated autism symptomatology were found to display a qualitatively similar, though milder pattern of difficulties in facial affect processing, theory of mind, and executive control, and these impairments appeared to be independent of trait alexithymia (Chapter 3). Elevated levels of ASD traits were associated with difficulties in processing social information in the context of executive control, and, once again, these impairments were found to be independent of alexithymia (Chapter 4). Extending these measures to a clinical sample revealed ASD-specific impairments. Findings showed that compared to neurtotypical controls, individuals with ASD were significantly poorer on a referential communication task performed under varying levels of cognitive load, and were less adept in regulating behavioural responses in the presence of affective information. ASD-related deficits were also observed on neutral measures of executive control. However, deficits on these tasks appeared to be less pronounced relative to a dual assessment task examining social and executive processing concurrently (Chapter 5). Finally, autism severity was associated with impaired perspective-taking abilities on a referential communication task. By contrast, no such associations were found between neutral measures of executive control. (Chapter 5) Overall, findings from the current thesis contribute to a deeper understanding of the age-associated changes in social and executive function during the later stages of adolescence, and provide a more comprehensive understanding of ASD-related difficulties in higher-order cognition at the clinical and subclinical level.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Social cognition and executive control in typical development and high-functioning autism spectrum disorder
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10098270
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