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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia (SCZ) are separate neurodevelopmental disorders that are both characterized by difficulties in social cognition and social functioning. Due to methodological confounds, the degree of similarity in social cognitive impairments across these two disorders is currently unknown. This study therefore conducted a comprehensive comparison of social cognitive ability in ASD and SCZ to aid efforts to develop optimized treatment programs.
In total, 101 individuals with ASD, 92 individuals with SCZ or schizoaffective disorder, and 101 typically developing (TD) controls, all with measured intelligence in the normal range and a mean age of 25.47 years, completed a large battery of psychometrically validated social cognitive assessments spanning the domains of emotion recognition, social perception, mental state attribution, and attributional style.
Both ASD and SCZ performed worse than TD controls, and very few differences were evident between the two clinical groups, with effect sizes (Cohen's d) ranging from 0.01 to 0.34. For those effects that did reach statistical significance, such as greater hostility in the SCZ group, controlling for symptom severity rendered them non-significant, suggesting that clinical distinctions may underlie these social cognitive differences. Additionally, the strength of the relationship between neurocognitive and social cognitive performance was of similar, moderate size for ASD and SCZ.
Findings largely suggest comparable levels of social cognitive impairment in ASD and SCZ, which may support the use of existing social cognitive interventions across disorders. However, future work is needed to determine whether the mechanisms underlying these shared impairments are also similar or if these common behavioral profiles may emerge via different pathways.
The investigations of social cognition can be roughly categorized into five domains including theory of mind (ToM), social perception, social knowledge, attributional style, and emotional processing. The majority of work on attributional style in schizophrenia has focused on the two biases most commonly seen in individuals with paranoid or persecutory delusions. The relationship between social cognition and neurocognition has been of interest to many in the research community with the primary debate focusing on the independence of the two constructs. In an effort to address this possibility and to clarify the nature of the relationship between these constructs in schizophrenia, researchers have utilized four primary strategies: direct examination of the correlations between social cognition and neurocognition, factor analytical techniques, paradigms designed to test for generalized versus specific impairments, and examinations of the contributions of social cognition and neurocognition to functional outcome.
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