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Perspective Taking Abilities in Aging Adults with ASD: An Exploratory Study

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
A. G. Lever1 and H. M. Geurts2, (1)Department of Psychology, Brain and Cognition, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (2)Department of Psychology, Brain and Cognition, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, NH, Netherlands
Background:  Understanding a faux-pas requires complex perspective taking abilities, like attributing mental states to oneself and others and use them for explaining and predicting behavior. More precisely, it involves the ability to recognize two mental states: one of the speaker who unintentionally says something socially inappropriate and one of the listener on whom the statement has an impact. Previous research in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and in neurotypical aging on perspective taking is inconsistent and the effect of age has never been investigated among adults with ASD. Therefore, this study focuses on perspective taking in adults with ASD.

Objectives:  To explore 1) how adults with ASD perform on a faux-pas perspective taking test and how they report themselves on their perspective taking abilities; 2) whether and how these two measures relate to each other; and 3) the effect of age on perspective taking in adults with ASD.

Methods:  We compared perspective taking performance on a faux-pas test (Stone, Baron-Cohen, & Knight, 1998) to self-reported perspective taking abilities on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index questionnaire (IRI; Davis, 1980, 1983) of 29 adults with ASD and 23 neurotypical adults between 19 and 74 years old. Dependent measures were scores on the IRI perspective taking subscale and faux-pas scores on the faux-pas and control stories composing the faux-pas test. 

Results:  Individuals with ASD presented impaired performance on the faux-pas stories. More detailed analysis revealed that adults with ASD did not differ on the detection of the faux-pas or the associated false belief, but on the explanation given to the faux-pas. Individuals with ASD were also impaired on control stories. They more often misinterpret a socially normal situation, considering it as socially awkward. Groups also differed on self-reported perspective taking: adults with ASD reported lower perspective taking abilities than neurotypical adults. Self-report was positively correlated with performance on the faux-pas (r=.33) and control (r=.46) stories. Exploratory analyses revealed that age did not influence any of the dependent measures.

Conclusions:  We provide evidence that, although adults with ASD recognized a discrepancy between the speaker’s perspective and the listener’s perspective, they were not able to explain the reason of the socially inappropriate response. Moreover, adults with ASD presented more difficulty in interpreting straightforward situations. However, they showed to have insight into their own perspective taking difficulties, as self-report was associated with test performance. Age does not seem to influence these capacities. These results show the importance of assessing perspective taking abilities not only in awkward, but also in normal, situations. Our results are preliminary and present data from an ongoing research project. We expect to include 40 participants per group in May 2013.

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