Autistic traits and social anxiety predict differential performance on social cognitive tasks in typically developing young adults

Cheryl L. Dickter
Joshua A. Burk
Katarina Fleckenstein
C. Teal Kozikowski

Abstract

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.