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Student Research on Aspergers Syndrome and Cognitive Styles, Sept-June, 2012 Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Associate Professor, Psychology Department.

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Presentation on theme: "Student Research on Aspergers Syndrome and Cognitive Styles, Sept-June, 2012 Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Associate Professor, Psychology Department."— Presentation transcript:

1 Student Research on Aspergers Syndrome and Cognitive Styles, Sept-June, 2012 Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Associate Professor, Psychology Department

2 Overview and brief history of the project This project is a continuation of my prior project funded by GUTS titled Student Research Internship on Autism. In fall 2008 I responded to students interested in autism by suggesting that we analyze blogs and forum postings by individuals with high functioning autism and Aspergers Syndrome. The following summer we created an online survey and successfully recruited 70 individuals self- diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (AS). Some of Professor Caldwell-Harris’s summer interns, 2009

3 For fall 2010, students designed a laboratory visit to learn more about social information processing, local processing bias, religious belief, intentionality, and in those with AS compared with neurotypicals. By spring 2011, we realized it was not viable to get large numbers of persons with an AS diagnosis into the lab, although we did recruit 10 persons with AS and 25 who had OCD. For the 2011-2012 academic year, my students and I decided to broaden our question to encompass a continuum of cognitive styles. This is consistent with a burgeoning literature on individual differences in the fields of cognition, personality and brain sciences, as exemplified in a recent book called Neurodiversity.

4 Ideas about a continuum of cognitive/personality styles Our group investigated the idea that persons with low sociality and local processing bias that often characterizes AS is an extreme end of a continuum which includes persons in the normal population. To test this idea in fall 2012 we recruited engineering, math and computer science majors, thus allowing us to study persons who may have a cognitive style that is intermediate between those with AS and typically developing individuals.

5 Cognitive psychology: understanding variations in information processing. Those with AS may focus on details and pursue work/hobbies like math and computer programming. Neurotypicals frequently take the big picture and usually have global processing bias when performing neurocognitive tasks. Social psychology: Those with AS often have social anxiety or just aren't interest in the social world, and prefer social activities like sports and volunteering. Personality: Those with AS may have a preference for sameness; neurotypicals vary widely of course but often are open to new experiences. Our broad perspective means that students are not just trained in one sub-discipline in psychology, but exposed to research ideas from the following fields:

6 Training Goals for Undergraduates The primary goal of the project is to give undergraduates hands-on experiences in psychology laboratory research. New lab members typically start by helping existing lab members with whatever they are working on at the present. This can include: recruiting and running participants in laboratory tasks organizing data in a spread sheet, preliminary data analysis (getting means, correlations, percentages) hypothesis testing using a stat package like SPSS (this is usually done after training with Professor Caldwell-Harris on the stat package; the lab has manuals like SPSS for dummies.

7 Doing now what you will do when you are a graduate student: find journal articles to help design a new task or understand existing results prepare an application to the Institutional Review Board to conduct a new experiment brain storm about a new task and design it Present analyses or ideas for a new task during a weekly lab meeting write papers (required for directed study and work-for- distinction) prepare posters for presentation at the October UROP poster session or for a conference draft papers that will be submitted to a journal submit abstracts to a conference

8 Two students completed Work for Distinction: Tessa Velazquez and Sohni Patel

9 Tessa Velazquez Tessa Velazquez is the primary project coordinator with the most years of experience. She has worked on the religion/cognitive styles project since her freshman year. In fall 2011, Tessa trained and supervised other lab members (who are named below) while they collected data from an additional 30 research participants. In December 2011, as well as in the spring, Tessa analyzed and wrote up a section of the data for her Work for Distinction. Her WFD panel consisted of internationally renowned Autism expert Dr. Helen Tager- Flusberg and Theology and Philosophy professor Dr. Welsley Wildman (plus Prof. C- H). Her hour-long oral examination led to a spirited discussion. All members of the panel agreed that Tessa's work should be submitted for publication, after additional analysis and writing. This picture shows Tessa presenting her work at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society Meeting (CNS), Chicago, IL, March 31-April.


11 Caitlin Murphy Tessa presented poster with lab Alumna Caitlin Fox Murphy, who did her WFD in 2010. Both presenters reported that their poster was very popular and they were kept busy with visitors throughout the official poster session time. They received emails from as far away as the UK about their project.

12 Sohni Patel She analyzed an innovative task designed by our team, called the peer conversation task. Results partially supported our hypotheses. A figured from her WFD oral exam is attached. This shows that individuals who had more of a systemizing cognitive style (as defined by Simon Baron-Cohen's questionnaire), the more signs of social anxiety they showed when interviewed by an interlocutor who was disinterested in the conversation. Sohni's analyses will pave the way for a future revision of this task. Sohni Patel, who joined the project in fall 2011, presented her Work for Distinction to committee members Jackie Liederman and Michelle Rucci. Her thesis was titled, Does the quality of social interaction in individuals with Aspergers Syndrome improve when discussing special interests?

13 Meláni Glassman, senior Meláni ran participants and made crucial suggestions for increasing the amount of students being recruited. She argued that we should recruit art students and poetry/fiction writers to determine if they have more global processing bias and an ability to make "far associations." She proposed the hypothesis that people who are highly spiritual (but not necessarily religious) will be those for whom "everything is connected" because their brains excel at holistic information processing. Global processors may have an information processing style that takes in disparate, probabilistic information. These people may be particularly creative.

14 Allison Daley, senior Allison supervised the interns in data collection and analysis of a particular task, the Social Attribution Task, which has become famous over the last few decades. It is common for people who watch a video of these geometric shapes interacting to refer to them as agentive actors. People talk about a big shape chasing or a small one hiding; social roles and emotions are typically ascribed. Persons with autism are less like to do this social attribution. Allison extended this finding to the continuum running from AS to neurotypical. She is the first person to administer this task to neurotypicals since the 1960s, when it was conducted with an all-female sample of Wellesely college students. Her close reading of the original studies revealed that contemporary college students told different types of narratives than the ones found in the earlier studies. Allison is continuing to analyze her data in preparation for journal submission. Heider and Simmel Movie

15 Duney Roberts, senior Duney analyzed blogs of those with AS and compared them to a matched set of blogs of neurotypicals. He worked with masters student Solomon Posner and sophomore Jen Saigal. The three students worked together using a computer program, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, to determine if language used by persons with AS differs from that of neurotypicals. Duney and volunteers Solomon and Jen found: Persons with AS, compared to age and gender matched neurotypicals, had more formal language, evidenced by using longer words and more punctuation, less use of personal pronouns “we” and “our”; when 'we' was used it was more likely to be in a generic sense of we humans. Neurotypicals used the “we” to refer to participation in a group social activity. Those with AS reported more discussion of abstract topics, less about actual incidents in their lives; wrote less about activities with family and friends. Liwc photo

16 Kelly Fanty Kelly Fanty, junior, has volunteered since fall 2010. She ran participants in the fall and helped Allison Daley. She will conduct her Work for Distinction in this lab in the fall. Danielle Martinez Danielle Martinez, junior, assisted Tessa Velazquez and started a new project to put the Rosset Intentionality Bias Survey into a Qualtrix survey. Our goal is to return to the survey method we used in 2010, where we recruited 70 persons with AS to complete a survey. Danielle designed the new survey with help of lab members, and then implemented it in Qualtrix. She then wrote the IRB application. The new project is currently being reviewed by the Charles River campus Institutional Review Board.

17 Nalini Basdeo and Alex Yellin offered valuable assistance during 2010-2011, helping primarily with Allison Daley’s analysis of the audiotapes describing reactions to the geometric shapes (i.e., social attribution task).

18 We have a student first authored paper in press! Jordan, C.J. & Caldwell-Harris, C.L. (in press). Understanding differences in neurotypical and autism spectrum special interests through internet discussion forums. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Chloe Jordan helped co-found this project with Prof C-H in 2009. Now a doctoral student at BU, Chloe conducts neuroscience research on drug addiction in rats. She continues to be interested in a range of questions in the behavioral sciences and hopes to return to human research at some later point in her career. This publication will document to people who view her vita that she has expertise in diverse scientific areas.

19 Thanks to Julia Krasnow, summer intern 2012, for helping to design and construct this powerpoint.

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