Exploring the Self-Referential Effect (SRE) in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Using an Ownership Paradigm
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Background The Self-Referential Effect (SRE) is the enhanced memory ability for information which is incorporated into our self-concept, and therefore is a valuable test to assess the presence and level of a self-concept. Originally the SRE effect was not thought to be evident in children until around 10 years of age. However, the development of a more developmentally appropriate paradigm called the Ownership Task revealed that children as young as 4 years old have this enhanced memory capability. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have an atypical pattern of self-concept development and results to determine whether the SRE is observed in subjects with ASD have so far proved inconclusive. Method The present study investigated the SRE in children with ASD using the Ownership Task which has been found to be an appropriate paradigm to use in young children (Cunningham et al, 2012). Children aged from 5 years 11 months to 13 years 11 months with ASD (N=15) were tested and their results compared to typically developing chronological and verbal age matches. Results Children with ASD were found to have the same SRE ability as their typical age matches. It was also found that having an explicit Theory of Mind (ToM) ability, higher socio-communicative functioning and less severe ASD symptoms were related to a higher SRE in the ASD sample. Conclusions It is proposed that the inconclusive results in the literature concerning the SRE in individuals with ASD are due to the methods being administered. It is suggested that the SRE is intact in individuals with ASD and may be demonstrated provided an aspect of self-concept which is intact is examined during an SRE test. The possible implications of this study and suggestions for areas of further research are discussed.