Examining the relationship between face processing and social interaction behavior in children with and without autism spectrum disorder

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Abstract

Background: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show impairment in reciprocal social communication, which includes deficits in social cognition and behavior. Since social cognition and social behavior are considered to be interdependent, it is valuable to examine social processes on multiple levels of analysis. Neuropsychological measures of face processing often reveal deficits in social cognition in ASD including the ability to identify and remember facial information. However, the extent to which neuropsychological measures are associated with or predictive of real-world social behavior is unclear. Methods: The study investigated 66 children (ASD 34, typically developing (TD) 32) using neuropsychological measures of face processing (identity, affect, and memory). Children also participated in a peer interaction paradigm, which allowed observation and coding of natural social interaction behaviors during play with peers (e.g., Self-Play, Cooperative Play, Verbal Bout). ANCOVA, regression, and correlation models analyzed between-group differences, the ability of neuropsychological measures to predict social behavior, and the strength of the associations. Results: Between-group differences were shown on Memory for Faces Delayed and the peer interaction variables Self-Play and Verbal Bout. Regression models indicated that Memory for Faces Delayed predicted the amount of Self-Play, Equipment use alone, and Cooperative Play with peers on the playground. Autism symptomology only predicted verbal exchange with peers. Conclusions: Face memory strongly predicts relevant social engagement patterns in both children with and without ASD. Impairment in facial memory is associated with reduced 'real-world' social interaction and more self-play, whereas higher performance in face memory predicts more cooperative play. Results highlight the strong connection between face memory and reciprocal social interaction, suggesting that improvement in one may benefit the other.

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Corbett, B. A., Newsom, C., Key, A. P., Qualls, L. R., & Edmiston, E. K. (2014). Examining the relationship between face processing and social interaction behavior in children with and without autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1866-1955-6-35

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