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Metacognition and Theory of Mind in Adults with Autsim Spectrum Disorder

Friday, 3 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
C. S. Grainger1, D. M. Williams2 and S. E. Lind3, (1)Durham Univeristy, Durham, United Kingdom, (2)Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom, (3)Durham University, Durham City, County Durham, United Kingdom
Background: It is widely acknowledged that Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterised by impairments in understanding others’ minds (theory of mind; ToM). Within the field there is much debate as to whether ToM and awareness of one's own mental states (metacognition) rely on the same underlying mechanism .However, little research has examined whether individuals with ASD also show diminished metacognitive ability. Accurate metacognitive judgements allow individuals to assess their current knowledge and tailor future learning accordingly. As such, impairments in metacognition could severally impact everyday functioning.

Objectives: Given the important role awareness of our own mind plays in adaptive functioning it is important to establish a metacognitive profile of ASD. As such this research aimed to assess metacognition in adults with ASD and employed two tests typically used to assess awareness of one’s own mind. Adults also completed a standard ToM task with the aim to examine whether impairments in ToM necessitate metacognitive impairments.

Methods:  10 participants with ASD and 10 age- and IQ-matched comparison participants completed a delayed judgement-of-learning (JOL) task and a feeling-of-knowing (FOK) task (data collection ongoing; final sample will be n = 20 per group).  In the JOL tasks participants were asked to memorise 80 word pairs.  After this learning phase participants were then presented with one word from each pair and asked to judge the likelihood that would be able to recall the missing word when given a cued-recall test later.  After all JOLs were made, the cued-recall task was administered immediately.  For each participant a gamma correlation was calculated, to establish the accuracy of participants JOLs during the task.Participants also completed a standard feeling-of knowing (FOK) task, during which they also memorised 80 word pairs. After learning the word pairs participants were presented with one word from the pair and asked to recall the missing word. For words participants failed to recall correctly, participants were then asked to judge the likelihood that they would recognise the missing word when presented with four options. In the last stage of this task participants were cued with one word from each pair and asked to select the missing word from four options. Gamma correlations were again calculated to establish the accuracy of participants’ FOK judgments. Finally participants were asked to judge their performance on both tasks by self-reporting which task they thought they had correctly recalled more word pairs.

Results: Preliminary results suggest that individuals with ASD appeared to be significantly poorer at assessing their own mental states during the FOK task. Adults with ASD also found it difficult to accurately predict which of the two tasks they had performed better on. However, on the JOL task, individuals with ASD showed similar metacognitive ability to typically developing individuals.

Conclusions: The results suggest that, at least on some measures of metacognition, adults with ASD show metacognitive impairments. However deficits do not appear to be absolute. These results are discussed in light of impaired ToM ability in the ASD group.

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