Emotion Shifting, Emotion Knowledge and Inhibitory Control in Children with ASD

Friday, May 13, 2016: 1:57 PM
Room 310 (Baltimore Convention Center)
B. Wilson, E. F. Geib, A. F. Lee and E. Bisi, Clinical Psychology, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA

Children’s ability to shift attention between different emotional events predicts positive outcomes such as prosocial behavior, emotion regulation and academic competence in children with typical development (TD; Wilson, 2003; Wilson, Derryberry, & Kroeker, 2006).  Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) tend to have difficulty with two skills thought to underlie emotion shifting skills, the ability to recognize emotions in others and shifting attention between different events (Swettenham et al., 1998; Wilson, 2003). Most prior research on attention shifting research has failed to include emotional stimuli.


We investigated whether the relation between children’s status (ASD vs TD) and their emotion shifting skills would be moderated by their inhibitory control and emotion knowledge skills. 


Participants were ninety-six who were from 3 years to 6 years 11 months old.  Fifty-four children were TD (61% male) and 42 children had ASD (83% male).  Children’s emotion shifting was assessed with the Children’s Attention Shifting Task, a computerized task that requires children to move their attention between different emotion faces (CAST; Wilson, 2003; Wilson et al., 2006); emotion knowledge was measured with the Facial Expressions subscale of the Assessment of Children’s Skills Emotions task (ACES); and inhibitory control with the Boy/Girl task (Diamond et al., 2002).  Data were collected during a home visit and a laboratory session. 


A multiple additive moderation analysis was conducted using PROCESS (Hayes, 2015) to examine the conditional effects of developmental status on emotion shifting based on inhibitory control and emotion knowledge. After controlling for children’s age and verbal skills, children’s developmental status, inhibitory control (IC) and emotion knowledge (EK) each explained unique variance in their emotion shifting skill. The main effect of developmental status on emotion shifting was significant (t = -4.52, p  < .001). Although the contribution of IC as a moderator was nonsignificant, EK significantly moderated the relation between developmental status and emotion shifting while holding the moderating effects of inhibitory control constant (t = 3.57, p < .001). In other words, the relation between status and emotion shifting was moderated by children EK whereas their IC skills had an additive effect on children’s emotion shifting skills. As can be seen in Figure 1, the emotion shifting skills of children with ASD were higher when their EK skills were higher, whereas emotion shifting skills in children with TD was not related to their EK skills.    


We found that emotion knowledge was more strongly associated with the emotion shifting skills for children with ASD than for children with TD.  Our findings suggest that interventions that improve the emotion knowledge skills of young children with ASD may also facilitate their ability to shift attention effectively between different emotional events.