Proactive control in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder: Unimpaired but associated with symptoms of depression

Marie K. Krug, Matthew V. Elliott, Andrew Gordon, Jeremy Hogeveen, Marjorie Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Although autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by deficits in cognitive control, our previous work has shown that preparatory, goal-directed cognitive processing (proactive control) may be preserved in children with ASD. We investigated whether proactive control is intact in adolescents and young adults with ASD, as well as how symptoms of ASD (repetitive behaviors) and psychopathology (Depressive, Anxiety, and Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Problems) are related to proactive control. Participants were adolescents and young adults with ASD (N = 44) and typical development (TD; N = 44). Proactive control was assessed using a picture-word Stroop paradigm where participants named animals depicted in drawings while ignoring a superimposed written animal word. Interference effects (reaction time (RT) differences between more difficult incongruent trials, where animal pictures and words prompted different responses, and simpler congruent trials, where animal pictures and words prompted the same response) were calculated for two versions of the Stroop Task: a mostly congruent (MC) block, where the majority of trials were congruent, and a mostly incongruent (MI) block, where most trials were incongruent. Proactive control was calculated as the reduction in interference in the MI block in comparison to the MC block. Proactive control did not differ between groups, indicating that proactive control is not impaired in adolescents and young adults with ASD. In ASD, depression symptoms were associated with reduced proactive control. Future research should investigate the effects of interventions targeting depression as well as interventions targeting proactive control processes in individuals with ASD and comorbid depression. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by deficits in cognitive control, which is defined as goal-directed cognition and behavior. This study showed that proactive control, a type of cognitive control characterized by sustained, preparatory maintenance of task goals, is unimpaired in adolescents and young adults with ASD. However, increasing symptoms of depression in individuals with ASD were associated with reduced proactive control. Treatment of comorbid depression and/or cognitive interventions may help adolescents and young adults with ASD function optimally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-527
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Abnormal Psychology
Volume129
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2020

Keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Cognitive control
  • Depression
  • Proactive control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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