Social influence on associative learning: Double dissociation in high-functioning autism, early-stage behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Introduction: Most of our learning activity takes place in a social context. I examined how social interactions influence associative learning in neurodegenerative diseases and atypical neurodevelopmental conditions primarily characterised by social cognitive and memory dysfunctions. Methods: Participants were individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA, n=18), early-stage behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD, n=16) and Alzheimer's disease (AD, n=20). The leading symptoms in HFA and bvFTD were social and behavioural dysfunctions, whereas AD was characterised by memory deficits. Participants received three versions of a paired associates learning task. In the game with boxes test, objects were hidden in six candy boxes placed in different locations on the computer screen. In the game with faces, each box was labelled by a photo of a person. In the real-life version of the game, participants played with real persons. Results: Individuals with HFA and bvFTD performed well in the computer games, but failed on the task including real persons. In contrast, in patients with early-stage AD, social interactions boosted paired associates learning up to the level of healthy control volunteers. Worse performance in the real life game was associated with less successful recognition of complex emotions and mental states in the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. Spatial span did not affect the results. Conclusions: When social cognition is impaired, but memory systems are less compromised (HFA and bvFTD), real-life interactions disrupt associative learning; when disease process impairs memory systems but social cognition is relatively intact (early-stage AD), social interactions have a beneficial effect on learning and memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-209
Number of pages10
JournalCortex
Volume54
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2014

Keywords

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Autism
  • Behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia
  • Paired associates learning
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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