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Socio-emotional processing in Fragile X Syndrome

posted on 2022-03-28, 22:58 authored by Tracey Anne Shaw
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which is characterised by significant social impairments including: social anxiety and withdrawal, gaze aversion, reduced interaction with peers, as well as schizotypal personality and autistic features. The overarching aim of this thesis was to investigate the socio-emotional processing skills of individuals with FXS. More specifically, through a series of studies, this thesis aimed to provide a more detailed investigation of the cognitive, behavioural and psychophysiological aspects of socio-emotional processing in FXS individuals. Using a broad cross-syndrome approach, Paper One compared the visual attentional functions that underpin how individuals with FXS process social information, to those with Williams syndrome (WS). Results revealed interesting dissociations between these two disorders, as well as between these clinical populations and chronological age (CA-) matched and mental age (MA-) matched controls. Papers Two and Three explored the explicit emotion recognition abilities of FXS individuals, while also investigating different aspects of implicit emotion recognition. In more detail, Paper Two explored how FXS individuals visually scanned emotional facial expressions, while Paper Three investigated whether autonomic hyperarousal was generalised or social-specific in a group of FXS females. Both papers revealed significant explicit emotion recognition difficulties in the FXS individuals compared to both CA- and MA-matched controls; however, the FXS individuals' visual scanning and autonomic arousal levels were similar to those of the MA-matched controls. Paper Four, the final empirical paper of this thesis, focused on higher-order socio-emotional evaluative processing, namely, whether FXS individuals display abnormal social approach judgements. Results revealed that when emotion recognition deficits were taken into consideration, the FXS individuals continued to display abnormal social judgements, consistent with the behavioural social aversion that is characteristic of FXS; and seen more generally in social anxiety. The current thesis contributed to the literature on socio-emotional processing skills in FXS by providing empirical evidence of explicit emotion recognition deficits, which in the past has been refuted. Importantly, it was determined that the observed emotion recognition deficits within the FXS group were apparent despite visual scanning of, and arousal from, emotional facial expressions being at developmentally equivalent levels. However, even after emotion recognition deficits were taken into consideration, FXS individuals were observed to make abnormal social judgements consistent with the social aversion reported behaviourally in the disorder. The current findings suggest that there is a complexity surrounding the socio-emotional processing in FXS that requires further research.


Table of Contents

1. General introduction -- 2. Thesis overview -- 3. Viewing social scenes: a visual scan-path study comparing Fragile X Syndrome and Williams Syndrome -- 4. Emotion recognition and visual-scan paths in Fragile X Syndrome -- 5. Hyperarousal in Fragile X Syndrome females: generalised or social-specific? A skin conductance study -- 6. Emotion recognition and social approach in Fragile X Syndrome -- 7. General discussion.


"This thesis is submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the combined degree of Doctor of Philosophy / Master of Clinical Neuropsychology April 2012" Includes bibliographical references Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis professional doctorate


Thesis (PhD/MClinNeuro), Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Cognitive Science / Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Cognitive Science

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Melanie Porter


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Tracey Anne Shaw 2012. Complete version suppressed due to copyright restrictions. However, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Macquarie University’s Document Supply, please contact




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