Cognition in Males and Females with Autism: Similarities and Differences

MRC AIMS Consortium, Meng-Chuan Lai*, Michael V. Lombardo, Amber N. V. Ruigrok, Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Sally J. Wheelwright, Bonnie Auyeung, Carrie Allison, Simon Baron-Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The male bias in autism spectrum conditions (ASC) has led to females with ASC being under-researched. This lack of attention to females could hide variability due to sex that may explain some of the heterogeneity within ASC. In this study we investigate four key cognitive domains (mentalizing and emotion perception, executive function, perceptual attention to detail, and motor function) in ASC, to test for similarities and differences between males and females with and without ASC (n = 128 adults; n = 32 per group). In the mentalizing and facial emotion perception domain, males and females with ASC showed similar deficits compared to neurotypical controls. However, in attention to detail and dexterity involving executive function, although males with ASC showed poorer performance relative to neurotypical males, females with ASC performed comparably to neurotypical females. We conclude that performance in the social-cognitive domain is equally impaired in male and female adults with ASC. However, in specific non-social cognitive domains, performance within ASC depends on sex. This suggests that in specific domains, cognitive profiles in ASC are modulated by sex.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberARTN e47198
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume7
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2012

Keywords

  • SPECTRUM DISORDERS
  • DIAGNOSTIC INTERVIEW
  • ASPERGER-SYNDROME
  • FACIAL EXPRESSION
  • HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM
  • EXECUTIVE DYSFUNCTION
  • INFANTILE-AUTISM
  • SEX-DIFFERENCES
  • FUSIFORM FACE AREA
  • CHILDHOOD AUTISM

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