Investigating Developmental Relations Between Social Reward, Social Cognition, and Symptom Severity in ASD.

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
E. Sadikova1, L. A. Kirby2, M. G. Pecukonis3, K. R. Warnell4 and E. Redcay2, (1)University of Maryland, College Pa, MD, (2)Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, (3)University of Maryland, College Park, MD, (4)Department of Psychology, San Marcos, TX
Background:  The social motivation theory of autism posits that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) derive less reward from social interactions, which may result in a cascade of developmental deficits, including those of social cognition (Chevallier et al., 2012a; Dawson et al. 2005). However, while previous literature has linked increased social reward to decreased autistic-like traits (Chevallier et al., 2012b, Foulkes et al., 2015), few studies have examined developmental changes in social reward and in relations between social reward and social cognition from childhood through adulthood.

Objectives:  We investigated age-related differences in social reward and explored relations between social reward and social cognition in participants with ASD between middle childhood and adulthood.

Methods:  To date, participants include 35 individuals diagnosed with ASD, aged 7-30 years (5 females, Mean Age =15.19, SD= 5.90). We administered five subscales from the self-report Social Reward Questionnaire (SRQ) (Foulkes, Viding, McCrory & Newman, 2014): Admiration (e.g., “I enjoy it if others look up to me”); Negative Social Potency (e.g., “I enjoy tricking someone out of something”); Passivity (e.g., “I enjoy following someone else’s rules”); Pro-social Interactions (e.g., “I enjoy treating others fairly”); Sociability (e.g., “I enjoy going to parties”) The ADOS-2 was administered to confirm clinical cut-off and estimate symptom severity. Finally, social cognitive measures Reading the Mind in the Eyes task (RMET) and Strange Stories were given.

We used correlation analyses to examine the relation between symptom severity and social reward. To investigate age-related changes in social reward, we conducted correlations between age and social reward subscales, separately, while controlling for symptom severity (ADOS Symptom Severity Index). To examine age-related changes in the relation between social reward and social cognition, we ran regressions with age and social reward as predictors of social cognitive measures, separately.

Results:  We found a negative correlation between the Pro-Social Interactions subscale of the SRQ and ADOS total severity scores (r = -.404, p = .032), even when controlling for age (r = -.424, p = .034). There was a positive correlation between age and the Pro-Social Interactions (r = .459, p = .021) subscale of the SRQ, and a negative correlation between age and the Negative Social Potency subscale (r = -.425, p= .034). These correlations remained significant when controlling for ADOS total severity scores. Further, there was no significant relation between social reward and the social cognition measures.

Conclusions:  Our results are consistent with the literature in that enjoyment of socially positive interactions negatively correlates with symptom severity. Further, our results indicate potential changes in social reward with age; specifically enjoyment of pro-social interactions may increase with age, and enjoyment of negative potency interactions may decrease with age, even when taking symptom severity into account. Finally, our results indicate that social reward may not be related to social-cognition within this age range. It is possible that the relation between these two factors plays a larger role earlier in development.