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Free recall and forgetting of emotionally arousing words in autism spectrum disorder

Gaigg, S. B. & Bowler, D. M. (2008). Free recall and forgetting of emotionally arousing words in autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychologia, 46(9), pp. 2336-2343. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.03.008


Since the earliest descriptions of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) abnormalities in affective behaviours have been considered a prominent feature in their clinical manifestations. What remains unclear, however, is whether these altered emotional behaviours are a mere facet of abnormalities in socio-cognitive processes or whether they constitute a primary feature of the condition. A number of studies now indicate that emotional processing atypicalities in ASD extend to domains outside the broader context of social cognition leading us to suggest that the disorder may be characterised by basic abnormalities in how psychophysiological and cognitive emotional responses modulate one another [Gaigg, S. B. & Bowler, D. M. (2007). Differential fear conditioning in Asperger's syndrome: Implications for an amygdala theory of autism. Neuropsychologia, 45, 2125–2134]. In the current study, we show that although individuals with ASD, like typical individuals, exhibit a free recall advantage for emotionally arousing and semantically related neutral as compared to unrelated neutral words, they do not show reduced forgetting rates for arousing stimuli as do typical individuals. These observations provide further support for the view that psychophysiological emotional responses do not modulate cognitive processes normally in ASD and further implicate abnormalities of amygdala connectivity (in particular with the hippocampus) in the neuropathology underlying this disorder.

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 9, July 2008, Pages 2336–2343,
Publisher Keywords: Amygdala, Connectivity, Memory, Psychophysiological modulation of cognition
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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