Objectives: The present study aimed at investigating the influence of emotional valence of prospective cues on prospective memory performance in children with ASD for the first time.
Methods: Eighteen children with high-functioning ASD and 18 typically developing individuals parallel for age, verbal and non-verbal mental abilities participated in this study. A laboratory-based task was used to investigate prospective memory performance. For the ongoing activity, a 2-back working memory task was used. Colored pictures were presented and participants were asked to indicate by keypress if the presented picture was the same as the picture presented two pictures before or not. Six prospective memory stimuli were presented (2 positive, 2 negative and 2 neutral stimuli) and participants were instructed to remember to press a third key if one of the prospective memory cues was presented. After a filled delay, the dual task block consisting of the ongoing task and the prospective memory task, started.
Results: An analysis of variance with repeated measures revealed a significant main effect of emotional valence of prospective memory stimuli. Overall, more emotionally negative stimuli were remembered correctly than emotionally positive and neutral stimuli. The group effect was also significant, indicating that children with ASD had less prospective memory hits than typically developing controls. Further analyses revealed that children with ASD had more prospective memory hits when emotionally positive and negative prospective memory stimuli were presented as compared to neutral ones. Controls had more prospective memory hits to emotionally negative stimuli than to positive and neutral ones, while prospective memory performance did not differ between emotionally positive and neutral prospective memory cues.
Conclusions: Overall, controls outperformed individuals with ASD in a standard laboratory prospective memory task. Both groups benefited from the emotional valence of prospective memory stimuli. Specifically, individuals of the ASD group benefited from emotionally positive and negative prospective memory cues, while controls’ prospective memory performance only increased with emotionally negative cues. Results indicate that emotionally salient prospective memory cues reduce executive control load on prospective memory tasks. Future studies should examine if everyday prospective memory performance in ASD can be enhanced by introducing prospective memory tasks in an emotional salient way.
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