The current work examined the unique contribution that autistic traits and social anxiety have on tasks examining attention and emotion processing. In Study 1, 119 typically-developing college students completed a flanker task assessing the control of attention to target faces and away from distracting faces during emotion identification. In Study 2, 208 typically-developing college students performed a visual search task which required identification of whether a series of 8 or 16 emotional faces depicted the same or different emotions. Participants with more self-reported autistic traits performed more slowly on the flanker task in Study 1 than those with fewer autistic traits when stimuli depicted complex emotions. In Study 2, participants higher in social anxiety performed less accurately on trials showing all complex faces; participants with autistic traits showed no differences. These studies suggest that traits related to autism and to social anxiety differentially impact social cognitive processing.
Dickter, Cheryl L.; Burk, Joshua A.; Fleckenstein, Katarina M.; and Kozikowski, C. T., Autistic Traits and Social Anxiety Predict Differential Performance on Social Cognitive Tasks in Typically Developing Young Adults (2018). PLoS ONE, 13(3).