Social processing in Williams syndrome, Autism spectrum disorder and Social anxiety disorder
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 23:12 authored by Kelsie Ann Boulton
Williams syndrome (WS), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SoAD) are conditions which present with contrasting social profiles. With respect to social processing and social behaviour, these conditions appear to represent distinct points on a continuum, from increased social approach in WS, to social withdrawal and avoidance in ASD and SoAD. While social processing anomalies have been established across WS, ASD and SoAD, research to date has largely investigated each condition in isolation. Moreover, while it is known that individuals with these conditions display social processing abnormalities in response to emotional face stimuli, it is not known whether similar abnormalities are observed in response to biographical stimuli. This thesis aimed to assess the influence of biographical information on social processing in individuals with WS, ASD or SoAD, using a cross-disorder comparison. A biographical learning paradigm was adapted and implemented across five papers, specifically investigating the influence of biographical information on attention allocation, emotion recognition, the salience of certain face regions and approach/avoidance decisions. The principal findings of this thesis are as follows: 1) Biographical information influences attention allocation, with WS individuals exhibiting an attention bias for trustworthy biographical faces, while SoAD individuals display an attention bias for untrustworthy biographical faces. 2) Biographical information does not influence the direct perception of emotional expressions, however; 3) Biographical information influences the salience of the eye region of faces, with WS individuals spending more time looking at the eyes of trustworthy biographical faces, while ASD and SoAD individuals spend more time looking at the eyes of untrustworthy biographical faces. 4) Across WS, ASD and SoAD, social approach judgments are directly influenced by biographical information. Thus, using a cross-disorder comparison, this thesis showed that biographical information does influence social processing across WS, ASD and SoAD, largely in the direction that one would predict based on their divergent social profiles. The current thesis has contributed to the literature on social processing in WS, ASD and SoAD and provides important preliminary evidence of how biographical information may influence social processing in disorders featuring distinct social profiles.