Theory of mind and executive function impairments in autism spectrum disorders and their broader phenotype: profile, primacy and independence

Dana Wong

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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Abstract

Impairments in both theory of mind (ToM; the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others) and executive function (EF; a group of high-level cognitive functions which help guide and control goal-directed behaviour) have been demonstrated in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Both deficits have been proposed by different groups of researchers as being the single primary cognitive deficit of autism, which can subsume the other deficit as secondary or artefactual. However, few studies have examined the nature of the relationship between ToM and EF in ASDs or conducted a systematic investigation of their relative primacy. This research principally sought to establish the primacy and independence of impairments in ToM and EF in ASDs and thereby evaluate the validity of single versus multiple primary deficit models of autism. These aims were addressed in two studies, both broad in scope. The first study was an investigation of the profile, primacy, and independence of ToM and EF impairments in individuals with ASDs. The sample included 46 participants with ASDs and 48 control participants matched on age and non-verbal ability. The profile of impairments was examined by measuring ToM and a range of EF components using tasks employing, wherever possible, process-pure indices of performance. Primacy was measured by focussing on i) whether or not the deficits observed were universal among individuals with ASDs; ii) whether the deficits were able to discriminate individuals with ASDs from matched controls (i.e., predict group membership); and iii) the ability of ToM and EF deficits to explain the full range of autistic symptomatology, as measured by correlating cognitive performances with behavioural indices. The relationship between ToM and EF impairments was investigated by conducting correlations between ToM and EF variables as well as analysing the incidence of dissociations between impairments in the two domains.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationMasters
Publication statusUnpublished - 2004

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Theory of Mind
Executive Function
Phenotype
Aptitude
Autistic Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Cognition
Research Personnel
Incidence
Research

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title = "Theory of mind and executive function impairments in autism spectrum disorders and their broader phenotype: profile, primacy and independence",
abstract = "Impairments in both theory of mind (ToM; the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others) and executive function (EF; a group of high-level cognitive functions which help guide and control goal-directed behaviour) have been demonstrated in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Both deficits have been proposed by different groups of researchers as being the single primary cognitive deficit of autism, which can subsume the other deficit as secondary or artefactual. However, few studies have examined the nature of the relationship between ToM and EF in ASDs or conducted a systematic investigation of their relative primacy. This research principally sought to establish the primacy and independence of impairments in ToM and EF in ASDs and thereby evaluate the validity of single versus multiple primary deficit models of autism. These aims were addressed in two studies, both broad in scope. The first study was an investigation of the profile, primacy, and independence of ToM and EF impairments in individuals with ASDs. The sample included 46 participants with ASDs and 48 control participants matched on age and non-verbal ability. The profile of impairments was examined by measuring ToM and a range of EF components using tasks employing, wherever possible, process-pure indices of performance. Primacy was measured by focussing on i) whether or not the deficits observed were universal among individuals with ASDs; ii) whether the deficits were able to discriminate individuals with ASDs from matched controls (i.e., predict group membership); and iii) the ability of ToM and EF deficits to explain the full range of autistic symptomatology, as measured by correlating cognitive performances with behavioural indices. The relationship between ToM and EF impairments was investigated by conducting correlations between ToM and EF variables as well as analysing the incidence of dissociations between impairments in the two domains.",
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AB - Impairments in both theory of mind (ToM; the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others) and executive function (EF; a group of high-level cognitive functions which help guide and control goal-directed behaviour) have been demonstrated in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Both deficits have been proposed by different groups of researchers as being the single primary cognitive deficit of autism, which can subsume the other deficit as secondary or artefactual. However, few studies have examined the nature of the relationship between ToM and EF in ASDs or conducted a systematic investigation of their relative primacy. This research principally sought to establish the primacy and independence of impairments in ToM and EF in ASDs and thereby evaluate the validity of single versus multiple primary deficit models of autism. These aims were addressed in two studies, both broad in scope. The first study was an investigation of the profile, primacy, and independence of ToM and EF impairments in individuals with ASDs. The sample included 46 participants with ASDs and 48 control participants matched on age and non-verbal ability. The profile of impairments was examined by measuring ToM and a range of EF components using tasks employing, wherever possible, process-pure indices of performance. Primacy was measured by focussing on i) whether or not the deficits observed were universal among individuals with ASDs; ii) whether the deficits were able to discriminate individuals with ASDs from matched controls (i.e., predict group membership); and iii) the ability of ToM and EF deficits to explain the full range of autistic symptomatology, as measured by correlating cognitive performances with behavioural indices. The relationship between ToM and EF impairments was investigated by conducting correlations between ToM and EF variables as well as analysing the incidence of dissociations between impairments in the two domains.

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