Date of Award

12-1-2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

DiLalla, Lisabeth

Abstract

The present study examined social information processing in a sample of teenagers with various comorbid neurodevelopmental disabilities and typically developing controls. Crick and Dodge’s (1996) model of social information processing was used as the theoretical framework for the current study. Specifically, emotion recognition of self and others, attribution biases, and outcome expectations were measured in adolescents with and without a neurodevelopmental disability. Performance on these social measures was compared to caregiver ratings of social skills, and was also compared across diagnostic groups. 52 adolescents with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and/or learning disability participated in the current study, as well as 51 typically developing control participants. Analyses showed that individuals with any neurodevelopmental disability were less accurate at recognizing sadness in others and at identifying their own feelings and emotions. An interaction between participant group and sex was found, such that females with a neurodevelopmental disability were most likely to report feeling badly after acting aggressively and reported that acting aggressively would be difficult, but that they believed aggression would result in a successful social outcome. Males with a neurodevelopmental disability believed the opposite, that acting aggressively would be socially unsuccessful, but that they would feel good about themselves and that acting aggressively would be easy. Additionally, caregiver ratings of social skills were positively related to participants’ abilities to identify their own feelings, and negatively related to participants’ ratings of the ease of aggressive social encounters. Interestingly, although diagnostic group differences were predicted on these measures, few were found. This research has implications for clinical and educational work with individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities. First, individuals with any neurodevelopmental disability appeared to have similar social impairments, suggesting that deficits may be related to the presence of any diagnosis, rather than one in particular. Analysis of the steps of social information processing in this population is useful for teachers and clinicians when trying to plan social skills interventions.

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