Age Moderates the Relationship between IQ and Facial Emotion Recognition at Low but Not High Levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptom Severity
Objectives: To delineate the relationship between IQ and own-age FER abilities for adolescents as a function of participant age and ASD symptom severity.
Methods: One hundred and forty-seven adolescents completed a standardized FER task (see Table 1). IQ was assessed by the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test-2 (KBIT-2; Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004). ASD symptom severity was determined by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 Severity Score (ADOS-2; Lord et al., 2012). A three-way interaction model whereby participant age moderated the relationship between IQ and child FER errors, with this effect in turn moderated by ASD severity was tested.
Results: Results revealed a three-way interaction (B = -.005; p = .01) indicating that age moderated the relationship between IQ and errors in child FER (i.e., the relationship was strongest in the youngest adolescents, weaker in slightly older adolescents, and non-significant in the oldest adolescents), only when participants had low, but not moderate or high levels of ASD symptom severity. At moderate and high levels of ASD symptom severity, IQ significantly predicted own-age FER errors regardless of participant age (see Figure 1).
Conclusions: As predicted, results indicated that the relationship between IQ and child FER errors was moderated by participant age for adolescents. This suggests that overall cognitive ability may only relate to behavioral performance on tasks of FER until a level of developmental expertise is achieved (during late-adolescence). However, this moderation was also found to be contingent upon level of ASD symptom severity indicating that individuals with ASD may rely on compensatory FER strategies that are more closely and continuously tied to aspects of general cognitive functioning.