Working memory and social competence in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) traits

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Virginia Tech


Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorders with similar functional impairments. Specifically, working memory (WM) deficits have been found in studies of both ADHD and ASD and social competence has been identified as an area in which these individuals also struggle. The purpose of this study was (a) to identify which components of working memory (WM; based on Baddeley's 2000 model) are deficient and (b) to explore how WM deficits contribute to social problems in individuals with varying levels of ADHD symptoms and ASD traits. It was hypothesized that visuospatial (VS) WM deficits would be evident in the three analogue clinical groups, phonological (PH) WM and central executive (CE) deficits would be more evident in groups with high ADHD symptoms, all three analogue clinical groups would have lower social competence, and WM abilities would moderate the relationship between ADHD symptoms and social competence. In Phase I, 1311 undergraduate students participated in an online survey on general psychopathology, ADHD symptoms, and ASD traits. From this sample, a subgroup (n = 60) completed Phase II, an in-lab session that included WM tasks, a brief cognitive assessment, and social conversation task. Although WM deficits were not identified for any group, all participants demonstrated worse performance on the VS WM task than the PH WM task. However, WM abilities did not moderate the relationship between ADHD symptoms and social competence. Exploratory analyses were conducted with similar results. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.



attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, working memory, social competence, college students