Task Switching in Autism: An EEG Study on Intentions and Actions.

Neuropsychologia. 2018 Jul 07;:

Authors: Hoofs V, Princen MM, Poljac E, Stolk A, Poljac E

One of the main symptoms of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) is experiencing cognitive inflexibility when adjustments of behaviour are required. While this so-called behavioural rigidity is broadly recognised in ASC, finding evidence for the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms remains challenging. In this electroencephalographic (EEG) study, participants with ASC and matched controls were instructed to choose between two cognitive tasks in each trial, and to respond to the subsequently presented target stimulus according to their task choice. While doing so, we tracked the frontally distributed contingent negative variation (CNV) during the task preparation interval as a measure of intentional control, and the posteriorly measured P3 during the task execution interval to monitor the translation of intentions into actions. The results support the notion of intentional control difficulties in ASC, where the CNV was attenuated in the ASC group compared to the control group. Furthermore, the CNV was differentiated between the tasks and transition types in the control group only, suggesting that the ASC group was less fine-tuning the required amount of intentional control to contextual circumstances. In contrast, the P3 showed no significant differences between the groups. Together, these findings highlight the importance of intentional control mechanisms as a crucial future route for a better understanding of cognitive flexibility and behavioural rigidity in ASC.

PMID: 29990509 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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