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Free recall in autism spectrum disorder: The role of relational and item-specific encoding

Gaigg, S. B., Gardiner, J. M. & Bowler, D. M. (2008). Free recall in autism spectrum disorder: The role of relational and item-specific encoding. Neuropsychologia, 46(4), pp. 983-992. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.11.011


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterised by a relatively specific pattern of typical and atypical memory functioning. Convergent behavioural and neuroscientific evidence indicates that this pattern of functioning may be the result of specific impairments in hippocampally mediated relational memory processes, whilst brain-mechanisms mediating item-specific memory processes remain intact. In the current paper we draw on a behavioural paradigm developed by Hunt and Seta [Hunt, R. R., & Seta, C. E. (1984). Category size effects in recall—The roles of relational and individual item information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 10, 454–464], which not only allowed us to determine whether individuals with ASD did indeed experience selective difficulties in relational processes, but in addition enabled us to gain insights into the severity of this impairment. Our results suggest that whilst individuals with ASD employ relational memory processes atypically, this impairment seems restricted to situations in which such processes need to be deployed spontaneously to facilitate memory. Under situations that provide environmental support for the processing of relational information, individuals with ASD did demonstrate the ability to employ such processes relatively effectively. These findings provide further support for the ‘Task Support Hypothesis’ and suggest that relational memory processes may in principle be functionally intact despite not being triggered by the same environmental situations as in typical development.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Neuropsychologia. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Neuropsychologia, Volume 46, Issue 4, 2008, Pages 983–992,
Publisher Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder, Medial temporal lobe memory systemm, Hippocampus, Task support hypothesis
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Related URLs:
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