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Relational Memory Processes in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Ring, M., Gaigg, S. B. & Bowler, D. M. (2016). Relational Memory Processes in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Research, 9(1), pp. 97-106. doi: 10.1002/aur.1493


Research into memory in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) suggests intact item memory but difficulties in forming relations between items (Bowler, Gaigg, & Lind, 2011). In this study, we tested memory for items as well as for sequential, spatial, and associative relations between items with the same paradigm using abstract shapes in ASD and typically developing (TD) individuals. Participants studied shape triplets on a computer screen and memory was subsequently tested either for the individual items making up the triplets, the screen-locations, the order or the combinations of items presented at study. Contrary to our predictions, performance was significantly lower in the ASD group on all four tasks. The result raises questions about how intact item memory is in ASD, which role task complexity plays, and how item-specific versus relational processing affect task performance. One possibility is that TD individuals relied more on relational processing in the current study and might have therefore had an advantage over ASD individuals. This idea is supported by the result of a preliminary analysis of age-related differences in memory across the midadult lifespan in both groups. Age seems to affect order memory less in ASD compared with TD individuals where it leads to a significant decrease in performance. This might indicate a decrease in relational processing in TD but not ASD individuals with increasing age. More research is needed to answer questions about the change in cognition in ASD individuals across the lifespan.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Ring, M., Gaigg, S. B. and Bowler, D. M. (2016), Relational Memory Processes in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Res, 9: 97–106, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.
Publisher Keywords: ageing analogy, item memory, relational memory, Autism Spectrum Disorder
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Accepted Version
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