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The Influence of Emotional Valence On Prospective Memory Performance in Children with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, 3 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
A. Kretschmer1 and M. Altgassen1,2, (1)Department of Psychology, Technische Universitaet Dresden, Dresden, Germany, (2)Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
Background: Prospective memory, the ability to remember intentions at a certain point in the future, is important for performing everyday tasks and to cope with daily demands. Prospective memory deficits in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been related to executive dysfunctions (e.g., Altgassen et al., 2009, 2012). Until now, no study has explicitly tested the impact of executive control load on prospective memory performance in ASD. Emotionally salient prospective memory cues are assumed to reduce executive control demands compared to emotionally neutral cues and to improve prospective memory performance by reducing the need for monitoring and facilitating switching from the ongoing task to the intended action (cf. studies in older adults, e.g., Altgassen et al., 2010). 

Objectives: The present study aimed at investigating the influence of emotional valence of prospective cues on prospective memory performance in children with ASD for the first time.  

Methods: Eighteen children with high-functioning ASD and 18 typically developing individuals parallel for age, verbal and non-verbal mental abilities participated in this study. A laboratory-based task was used to investigate prospective memory performance. For the ongoing activity, a 2-back working memory task was used. Colored pictures were presented and participants were asked to indicate by keypress if the presented picture was the same as the picture presented two pictures before or not. Six prospective memory stimuli were presented (2 positive, 2 negative and 2 neutral stimuli) and participants were instructed to remember to press a third key if one of the prospective memory cues was presented. After a filled delay, the dual task block consisting of the ongoing task and the prospective memory task, started. 

Results: An analysis of variance with repeated measures revealed a significant main effect of emotional valence of prospective memory stimuli. Overall, more emotionally negative stimuli were remembered correctly than emotionally positive and neutral stimuli. The group effect was also significant, indicating that children with ASD had less prospective memory hits than typically developing controls. Further analyses revealed that children with ASD had more prospective memory hits when emotionally positive and negative prospective memory stimuli were presented as compared to neutral ones. Controls had more prospective memory hits to emotionally negative stimuli than to positive and neutral ones, while prospective memory performance did not differ between emotionally positive and neutral prospective memory cues. 

Conclusions: Overall, controls outperformed individuals with ASD in a standard laboratory prospective memory task. Both groups benefited from the emotional valence of prospective memory stimuli. Specifically, individuals of the ASD group benefited from emotionally positive and negative prospective memory cues, while controls’ prospective memory performance only increased with emotionally negative cues. Results indicate that emotionally salient prospective memory cues reduce executive control load on prospective memory tasks. Future studies should examine if everyday prospective memory performance in ASD can be enhanced by introducing prospective memory tasks in an emotional salient way.

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