Social processing in Asperger’s Disorder




Johnson, Shannon Alice

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The ability to process social information is impaired in individuals with Asperger's Disorder (AsD). However, the nature of the impairment is not well characterized and the relationships among various aspects of social processing have not been investigated. The current study extends previous investigations of AsD by varying the complexity, modality, and type of social stimuli used to evaluate social processing. Twenty individuals participated in this study: 11 with a diagnosis of AsD and 9 age, education, and IQ-matched normal controls (NC). All participants demonstrated at least average intellectual ability. A battery of Social Processing tasks assessed the ability to perceive and interpret several types of socially relevant stimuli including faces, emotions (in faces and voices), nonverbal gestures, and complex social scenes. Results indicated a high degree of intercorrelation among the social processing tasks within the NC group, in contrast to a lack of association among task performances for the AsD group. More specifically, the ability to detect abnormalities in complex social scenes task was related to performance on “elementary” tasks (i.e., face recognition, emotion recognition) for the NC group, but to none of the elementary tasks for the AsD group. Group comparisons of individual tasks indicated impaired performance by the AsD group when presented with emotion in voices, emotion in faces, nonverbal gestures, and social scenes. In addition, the AsD group demonstrated impaired recall of the social scenes. Finally, the results indicated a unique pattern of impaired recognition of specific emotions in AsD. For the NC group, findings suggest that the ability to accurately perceive elementary social stimuli including faces and emotions is strongly associated with the ability to make higher level judgments about social interactions. In contrast, the AsD results suggest that the social deficits in this disorder may be due to a lack of integration among the various perceptual and higher level abilities required to process complex social information. Furthermore, impaired processing of complex social stimuli appears to impact the ability to recall this information.



Asperger's syndrome, Social skills in children, Emotional stimuli