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Title: What's in a face? :exploring components of social perception and social cognition in Williams syndrome and autism
Authors: Cole-Fletcher, Rachel
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The social profiles seen in Williams syndrome (WS) and autism (ASD) have often been cited as mirror opposites of one another, with hyper-sociable behaviours seen in Williams syndrome and a disinterest in social engagement evidenced in autism. Studies investigating the social-perceptual abilities of individuals with these neurodevelopmental disorders have found overlapping profiles, with a tendency towards using more featural processing strategies when interpreting information from faces, and deficits in recognising and interpreting the various facial cues that provide social information. It is therefore likely that differences in social approach behaviours in the two groups are driven by a more social-cognitive mechanism. The focus of this thesis was on answering the overarching question: What meaning do faces and socially relevant stimuli have for children with Williams syndrome and autism? Six experiments examined the recognition, attribution, description and understanding of emotions and social cues from faces and socially relevant scenes, amongst WS and ASD individuals relative to their typically developing peers. It was found that the social-perceptual profiles of individuals with the neurodevelopmental disorders were markedly similar, with accuracy for identifying emotions being at nonverbal mental (but not chronological) age level. A tendency towards differences emerged in terms of the types of attribution and descriptions that individuals made, with those with ASD focusing more on physical aspects of social and non-social stimuli whilst individuals with WS showed more of an atypicality in the understanding of emotions and social contexts. The lack of any clear differentiation between individuals with ASD and WS in both the social-perceptual and social-cognitive domains is in line with recent research pointing to the extreme heterogeneity seen in these groups. The issue of overlaps and dissociations within such heterogeneous groups provides the theoretical framework for this thesis.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:Institute of Neuroscience

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