Behavioral Rigidity in Adults with ASO - lnvestigation of the Underlying Neurocognitive Mechanisms

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This study investigated the underlying mechanism of behavioral rigidity in ASD by means of a Voluntary Task Switching (VTS) paradigm while recording behavioral and electroencephalography (EEG) data. The VTS paradigm requires the participants to perform two simple cognitive tasks, and to choose themselves which task to perform in each trial. At the moment, there are two different views regarding the nature of the underlying mechanism of behavioral rigidity in ASO. The original view states that persons with ASO exhibit impaired task switching abilities, whereas the modern view states that persons with ASO experience impaired intentional control as underlying mechanism for behavioral rigidity. The current study was conducted to come to a decisive answer to this debate. This was done by comparing the quality of different processes, which are required to perform this paradigm correctly, between an ASO and a control group. The behavioral analyses revealed a stronger tendency in the ASO group to repeat tasks (i.e. enlarged repetition bias) as indicated by increased run lengths. Moreover, analysis of the task execution data provided comparable switch casts (RTs and errors) between the groups, suggesting intact task switching abilities in the ASO group. Analysis of the task preparation data and of the stimulus repetition effect could not provide evidence in support of the view of impaired intentional control in ASO. The EEG data showed differences between ASO and control group in the P3 and Contingent Negative Variation (CNV), two Event Related Potential (ERP) components on which was focused in this study. The P3, previously shown to be modulated by the quality of the task switch preparation, was decreased and delayed in the ASO group on switch trials. The CNV, which was suggested to track the active intentional control when switching from the shape to the location task, was also attenuated in the ASO group. Together, these EEG findings provide evidence supporting the view that behavioral rigidity in ASO is likely to be caused by deviations in intentional control processes. The P3 bottom-up could not provide additional evidence for this view.
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