Category: Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders
Introduction: Attribution biases are an important facet of social information processing (Crick & Dodge, 1994), as they guide what social cues individuals perceive and how they interpret them (Ostrav and Goldeski et al., 2010). The tendency to attribute ambiguous events to hostile intentions is known as hostile attribution bias (HAB), which may be associated with social deficits characteristic of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), such as social awareness (Meyer et al., 2006) and theory of mind (Choe et al., 2013). Past research with typically developing youth indicates that cognitive problem-solving based interventions can result in decreased HAB (Crean & Johnson, 2013). However, minimal research has been conducted to examine the role HAB plays in predicting intervention outcomes, particularly in relevant deficit domains such as social functioning among youth with ASD. This study sought to analyze the effects of individual differences in HAB on treatment outcomes in an evidence-based social skills intervention (SSI) for ASD youth (Lerner et. al, 2011). It was hypothesized that youth with higher levels of HAB would demonstrate smaller social skills gains compared to those with lower levels of HAB.
Methods: Data was aggregated from and evidence-based SSI completed at two different locations, with the first consisting of 13 participants in an after school model (90 minutes/week, 4 weeks; Lerner & Mikami, 2012) and the second consisting of 32 participants in a summer program model (5 hours/week, 5 days/week, 6 weeks; see Lerner, Mikami & Levine, 2011), totaling 45 participants aged 11-17. Participants completed a questionnaire on social attributions in response to ambiguous social scenarios at pretest (Prinstein et al., 2005). Parents completed a pre-post measure of ASD symptomatology (SRS-2; Constantino & Gruber, 2012).
Results: ANCOVA-of-change models revealed that higher levels of HAB at baseline were associated with greater improvements on the SRS (β=-.29, p=.04). Specifically, this effect was driven by greater improvements in social awareness (β=-.19, p=.04).
Discussion: Higher levels of HAB were associated with greater improvements in ASD symptomatology, particularly social awareness. It may be that exhibiting high levels of HAB reflects a hyper-attunement to social contexts, thereby providing an opportunity to be particularly receptive to the positive, corrective social experiences, provided by this intervention. Future research should consider HAB as a potential screening construct for SSIs, considering improved social awareness may drive intervention outcomes for ASD youth with greater HAB.
Samantha Sommer– Research Coordinator, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York
Alan Gerber– Ph.D. Candidate, Stony Brook University, Plainview, New York
Lee Santore– Research Coordinator, Stony Brook University, North Babylon, New York
Rachit Bhatt– Research Assistant, Stony Brook University
Christopher McLean– Research Assistant, Stony Brook University
Matthew Lerner– Assistant Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, & Pediatrics, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York