Cognitive Processes Predicting Advanced Theory of Mind in the Broader Autism Phenotype
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Little is known about executive functions (EFs) associated with advanced theory of mind (ToM) abilities. We aimed to determine if advanced ToM abilities were reduced in individuals with subclinical traits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), known as the "Broader Autism Phenotype" (BAP), and identify the EFs that predicted unimpaired performance on an advanced ToM task, the faux pas test. We assessed 29 participants (13 males) with the BAP who were relatives of children with ASD. Thirteen participants showed reduced ability to understand a faux pas. A discriminant function analysis correctly classified 79% of cases as impaired or unimpaired, with high sensitivity (80%) and specificity (77%), which was best predicted by language-mediated EFs, including verbal generativity, working memory, cognitive inhibition, and flexibility. Autism Res 2019. © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: Little is known about the complex cognitive processes that enable accurate interpretation of another person's thoughts and emotions, known as "theory of mind." In relatives of individuals with autism, who had mild traits of autism themselves, approximately half had difficulty interpreting situations involving a social faux pas. Cognitive inhibition and flexibility, working memory, and verbal generativity were related to, and appeared to be protective for, unimpaired understanding of a faux pas.
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