Investigating False Memory Phenomenon with Hybrid Lists in Autism Spectrum Disorders
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The purpose of this study was to further our understanding of how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) process information. A false memory paradigm was used to test how susceptible ASD subjects are to false memories. Previous studies have shown robust levels of false memories in typical individuals (Budson et al., 2006), and studies examining false memory effects in autism have been mixed which is due in large part to diagnostic differences in ASD participants (Gaigg & Bowler, 2009; Kamio & Toichi, 2007). In addition, previous studies have only examined either semantic or phonological word lists. The goal of this study was to investigate false memories using "hybrid" lists, which include both semantic and phonological word lists. The importance of studying susceptibility to false memories in autistic populations is that it may help us to better understand the way in which association networks that are thought to underlie the false memory phenomenon in neurotypicals are constructed in participants with ASD. Three false memory subtests were given to each of 20 participants. There were 10 ASD and 10 Control participants. A computer program presented the words from each word list separately and instructed the participant to begin recalling as many words as they could remember once they pressed the enter key. They were given 60 seconds per list to write down as many words as they could remember. There were 12 lists per substudy. There were three list types: semantic, phonological and hybrid. Semantic words within a list were all semantically related to the critical lure that was not presented while phonological words within a list were phonologically related to the critical lure that was not presented. The hybrid words within a list were either semantically or phonologically related to the critical lure word that was not presented. Therefore presentation of such words within a list should activate the networks in which they are associated with. It was predicted that ASD participants would be less susceptible to false memories given that previous studies have shown that ASD participants process information in a more local rather than global way (Jolliffe & Baron-Cohen, 1997). Results showed several interesting patterns that emerged. It was found that ASD and control participants did not differ on the number of words correctly recalled or on the number of errors produced. They did show an interesting pattern of differences for the total number of critical lure items falsely recalled in which ASD participants always produced fewer critical lures than control participants. In addition, the number of critical lures produced did not differ across list type for ASD participants, but as expected control participants produced the most critical lures for the hybrid list. Finally, ASD participants produced significantly fewer critical lures on the hybrid list related to control participants. These findings support previous research that has highlighted the more restricted less distributed neuronal networks that might exist in ASD subjects. This work is important in that it allows researchers to better understand how those with ASD may be processing and categorizing information into their memory systems. This may in turn help us to create behavioral modification techniques that take into account processing differences that exist in ASD populations.