Independence of hot and cold executive function deficits in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder

Zimmerman, David L., Ownsworth, Tamara, O'Donovan, Analise, Roberts, Jacqueline and Gullo, Matthew J. (2016) Independence of hot and cold executive function deficits in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10 FEB2016: e024.1-e024.14. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00024


Author Zimmerman, David L.
Ownsworth, Tamara
O'Donovan, Analise
Roberts, Jacqueline
Gullo, Matthew J.
Title Independence of hot and cold executive function deficits in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder
Journal name Frontiers in Human Neuroscience   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1662-5161
Publication date 2016-02-05
Year available 2016
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00024
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 10
Issue FEB2016
Start page e024.1
End page e024.14
Total pages 14
Place of publication Lausanne, Switzerland
Publisher Frontiers Research Foundation
Language eng
Abstract Individuals with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) display diverse deficits in social, cognitive and behavioral functioning. To date, there has been mixed findings on the profile of executive function deficits for high-functioning adults (IQ 70) with ASD. A conceptual distinction is commonly made between "cold" and -hot" executive functions. Cold executive functions refer to mechanistic higher-order cognitive operations (e.g., working memory), whereas hot executive functions entail cognitive abilities supported by emotional awareness and social perception (e.g., social cognition). This study aimed to determine the independence of deficits in hot and cold executive functions for high-functioning adults with ASD. Forty-two adults with ASD (64% male, aged 18-66 years) and 40 age and gender matched controls were administered The Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT; emotion recognition and social inference), Letter Number Sequencing (working memory) and Hayling Sentence Completion Test (response initiation and suppression). Between-group analyses identified that the ASD group performed significantly worse than matched controls on all measures of cold and hot executive functions (d = 0.54 - 1.5). Hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that the ASD sample performed more poorly on emotion recognition and social inference tasks than matched controls after controlling for cold executive functions and employment status. The findings also indicated that the ability to recognize emotions and make social inferences was supported by working memory and response initiation and suppression processes. Overall, this study supports the distinction between hot and cold executive function impairments for adults with ASD. Moreover, it advances understanding of higher-order impairments underlying social interaction difficulties for this population which, in turn, may assist with diagnosis and inform intervention programs.
Formatted abstract
Individuals with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) display diverse deficits in social, cognitive and behavioral functioning. To date, there has been mixed findings on the profile of executive function deficits for high-functioning adults (IQ > 70) with ASD. A conceptual distinction is commonly made between “cold” and “hot” executive functions. Cold executive functions refer to mechanistic higher-order cognitive operations (e.g., working memory), whereas hot executive functions entail cognitive abilities supported by emotional awareness and social perception (e.g., social cognition). This study aimed to determine the independence of deficits in hot and cold executive functions for high-functioning adults with ASD. Forty-two adults with ASD (64% male, aged 18–66 years) and 40 age and gender matched controls were administered The Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT; emotion recognition and social inference), Letter Number Sequencing (working memory) and Hayling Sentence Completion Test (response initiation and suppression). Between-group analyses identified that the ASD group performed significantly worse than matched controls on all measures of cold and hot executive functions (d = 0.54 − 1.5). Hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that the ASD sample performed more poorly on emotion recognition and social inference tasks than matched controls after controlling for cold executive functions and employment status. The findings also indicated that the ability to recognize emotions and make social inferences was supported by working memory and response initiation and suppression processes. Overall, this study supports the distinction between hot and cold executive function impairments for adults with ASD. Moreover, it advances understanding of higher-order impairments underlying social interaction difficulties for this population which, in turn, may assist with diagnosis and inform intervention programs.
Keyword Adults
Autism spectrum disorder
Executive functions
Neuropsychological assessment
Social cognition
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Grant ID APP1036365
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
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