Reactive and Proactive Interference Control in Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder Across the Lifespan

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As a large heterogeneity is observed across studies on interference control in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research may benefit from the use of a cognitive framework that models specific processes underlying reactive and proactive control of interference. Reactive control refers to the expression and suppression of responses and proactive control refers to the adjustment of response to previous situations. We administered a Simon conflict task in 2 independent adult samples (IQ >80) and applied distributional analyses to examine temporal dynamics of interference control in ASD. Along comparable interference effects in both reactive and proactive control, young men (n = 23, 18–36 years) diagnosed with ASD made as many fast errors on conflict trials as neurotypical controls (n = 19) and showed similar suppression on slow responses (Study 1). However, over the adult life span (19–79 years), individuals with ASD (n = 118) made fewer fast errors on conflict trials, and had overall slower and more accurate responses than controls (n = 160; Study 2). These results converge to the idea that individuals with ASD adopt a more cautious response bias over the adult life span, which is not yet observed among young adults. Our findings suggest that it is fruitful to distinguish different processes involved in interference control and contribute to an increased understanding of interference control mechanisms in adults with ASD.

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