Components of Executive Control in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Examination of Dual-Mechanism Accounts

Andrew Gordon, Marie K. Krug, Rachel Wulff, Matthew V. Elliott, Jeremy Hogeveen, Tyler Lesh, Cameron Carter, Marjorie Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: It remains unclear whether executive control (EC) deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) represent a failure in proactive EC (engaged and maintained before a cognitively demanding event) or in reactive EC (engaged transiently as the event occurs). We addressed this question by administering a paradigm investigating components of EC in a sample of individuals with ASD and typically developing individuals during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Methods: During functional magnetic resonance imaging, 141 participants (64 ASD, 77 typically developing) completed a rapid preparing to overcome prepotency task that required participants to respond to an arrow probe based on the color of an initially presented cue. We examined functional recruitment and connectivity in the frontoparietal task control, cingulo-opercular task control, salience, and default mode networks during cue and probe phases of the task. Results: ASD participants showed evidence of behavioral EC impairment. Analyses of functional recruitment and connectivity revealed that ASD participants showed significantly greater activity during the cue in networks associated with proactive control processes, but on the less cognitively demanding trials. On the more cognitively demanding trials, cue activity was similar across groups. During the probe, connectivity between regions associated with reactive control processes was uniquely enhanced on more-demanding (relative to less-demanding) trials in individuals with ASD but not in typically developing individuals. Conclusions: The current data suggest that rather than arising from a specific failure to engage proactive or reactive forms of EC, the deficits in EC commonly observed in ASD may be due to reduced proactive EC and a consequent overreliance on reactive EC on more cognitively demanding tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Cognitive control
  • Executive control
  • Executive functions
  • Functional connectivity
  • Functional recruitment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry


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