Social Cognition and Emotion in Autism and Personality Disorders: A Functional Perspective

Friday, May 18, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
2:00 PM
J. C. L. M. Duijkers1,2, C. T. W. M. Vissers1,3, W. J. Verbeeck4, A. Arntz5 and J. I. M. Egger1,3,6, (1)Centre of Excellence for Neuropsychiatry, Vincent van Gogh Institute for Psychiatry, Venray, Netherlands, (2)Division for addiction, Vincent van Gogh Institute for Psychiatry, Venray, Netherlands, (3)Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands, (4)Centre for Autism and ADHD, Vincent van Gogh Institute for Psychiatry, Venray, Netherlands, (5)Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands, (6)Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands

Although autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and personality disorders (PD) are considered to be different diagnostic classes, multiple similarities in appearance can be identified. Both patients with ASD and patients with PD show problems in interpersonal behaviour and emotional areas.  


These problems can be understood in the context of social cognition (SC) and emotion (E). Measuring aspects of those can contribute to a better understanding of ASD and PD, by focusing on a functional level, instead of just onto the topographical surface.


The present study explored SC and E in patients with ASD or PD (ASD group n =51; PD group n = 68; non-patient control data (derived with permission from PEN Nijmegen), matched with ASD group n = 52; control data matched with PD group = 65). Tests included the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence-Test (MSCEIT), Emotional-Quotient-Inventory (EQ-i), Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ), and Strange-Stories-Task (SST).


Between groups analyses suggest that the ASD patients estimate themselves as more impaired on the ability to read emotions, but better on intrapersonal functioning, than the PD patients. On tests mapping the ability to read and regulate emotions, no differences are found between the ASD group and PD group. Impairments on self-report and ability measures of SC and E are found for both groups, as compared to non-patient data.


When looking at the similarities and differences in the results between the ASD and PD group on the neuropsychological measures of SC and E, one could state the following. The presence of a negativity bias in patients with PD may influence their (social) functioning and vice versa. Having a tendency for negative cognitions and a low self-regard can thus colour one’s functioning on emotional ability measures. Furthermore, patients with ASD may have a weaker ability to reflect as compared to patients with PD, leading to a lower sense of (intrapersonal) emotional insight/suffering. Further research is needed to find out which neuropsychological mechanisms underlie the present findings. Results suggest that a dimensional approach and cognitive profile of strengths and weaknesses, can contribute to a better understanding of the similarities and differences between ASD and PD.

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