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Title: Self referential and social cognition in adolescents with autistic spectrum disorder
Author: Woods, Damian Joseph Lloyd
ISNI:       0000 0004 2723 3584
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2012
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A dominant social cognition model has construed the central socio-communicative impairments in Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) as deficits in understanding others’ minds- what other people know, intend, believe and feel. Difficulties for individuals with ASD have been well documented on “Theory of Mind” (TOM) tasks designed to tap these skills (Boucher, 2012). Recently however, research has shifted toward exploring how individuals with ASD understand their own minds, and to look at the cognitive mechanisms involved in thinking about “the self”. The present thesis is situated in the context of this emerging self-referential cognition (SRC) research, including its close connection to social cognition. This thesis explored the quantitative and qualitative differences in neurotypical (NT) adolescents and those with ASD in generating self-images (e.g. concepts such as I am a female, I am a footballer, I am kind) through use of novel fluency tasks (the ‘I Am’ and ‘(s)he is’ tasks) based on the Twenty Statements Test (TST; Kuhn and McPartland, 1954). Relationships between these tasks and social cognition (TOM measures) were also explored. The results indicated that both NT adolescents and those with ASD exhibited a self-reference effect (SRE), generating more statements about themselves than other people. The magnitude of the SREs was found to be significantly related to several TOM measures such as performance on the Mind in the Eyes task of emotion recognition. Moreover, the ASD group produced significantly less personal attributions across all fluency tasks, but a similar number of social and physical attributions, compared to the NT group. This mirrored emerging findings that indicate a specific deficit in psychological but not physical self awareness in ASD (e.g. Williams, 2010). Additionally, the ASD group were found to make significantly fewer spontaneous social stereotypes on the (s)he is tasks, such as the “Beauty is Good” stereotype, a finding which contrasts with previous research showing preserved social stereotyping in children with ASD (Fonesca et al, 2011). The theoretical and clinical implications of these findings for individuals with ASD are discussed with reference to the “absent-self hypothesis” (e.g. Frith, 2003). Additionally, the promising utility of fluency measures in capturing important aspects of SRC are also noted, including suggestions for further research.
Supervisor: Moulin, C. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Clin.Psy.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available