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Analogical Reasoning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Eye-Tracking Study

Friday, 3 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
L. Yi1, Z. Chen2, E. Tan3, Y. Fan4 and T. Nishida2, (1)Department of Psychology, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China, (2)University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, (3)Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China, (4)Guangzhou Rehabilitation & Research Center for Children with ASD, Guangzhou, China
Background: Analogical reasoning involves identifying and mapping relational correspondences between entities. Few studies have examined the possible deficits in analogical reasoning although recent findings suggest that the basic ability to engage in analogical reasoning and relational mapping is intact in adults and teenagers with autism (Morsanyi & Holyoak, 2010; Reed, 1996; Scott & Baron-Cohen, 1996).  Differences in relational mapping between children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing (TD) children would be predicted by the Weak Central Coherence theory (Frith & Happe, 1994; Happe & Frith, 2006), which posits that in contrast to typical people’s engaging in global processing and extracting coherent representations, individuals with autism tend to engage in local, detail-focused processing. Also, given that other theories (Rajendran & Mitchell, 2007) propose that executive functions are typically impaired in children with ASD, and that executive functioning is an important aspect of analogical reasoning (Richland et al, 2010), deficits of analogical reasoning in ASD children are predicted. This study was designed to test, integrate, and extend these theories.

Objectives: The present study was designed to examine the possible differences in analogical reasoning and relational mapping between ASD and TD children with an eye-tracking approach.

Methods: Eighty-two children participated in four groups: 6- and 8-year-old ASD children and age-matched TD children. The older ASD group and the younger TD group were matched by IQ. All children were tested in a series of relational mapping tasks adopted from Honomichl and Chen (2006): the picture-comparison, object-mapping, and cross-mapping tasks. Children were instructed to view the pictures and solve the problems while their eye movements were recorded. In addition, a series of EF tasks (e.g., Stroop-like tasks and the Flexible Item Selection Task) were also included to assess working memory, flexibility, and inhibition.

Results: The data analyses focused on the possible differences between ASD and TD and developmental differences in the EF measures, the relational mapping performance (based on their verbal report as well as fixation time on the correct and incorrect objects), and children’s encoding of the relations between elements in the pictures (as revealed by their eye-movements/paths on the pictures). Analyses with ANOVAs and stepwise regressions reveal the following key findings: 1) TD outperformed ASD in relational mapping tasks in both verbal reports and fixation time; 2) the TD groups were more likely to encode the relations than ASD; TD also outperformed ASD in almost all the EF tasks; 4) developmental differences in these measures were also revealed; and 5) flexibility is a significant predictor for encoding, and IQ and encoding are predictors for relational mapping performance.

Conclusions: These results clearly demonstrate deficits with autism in analogical reasoning, and support the model illustrating the mechanisms involved in relational mapping impairment in autism. Deficits in EF cause the difficulty in identifying and encoding the relations, and this relational encoding impairment is a cause for engaging in the local- elements and perceptually driven features processing instead of global, relational, and structural processing.

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