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Emotion-related and abstract concepts in autistic people: Evidence from the British Picture Vocabulary Scale

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Abstract

Autistic and nonautistic retarded adolescents and young adults, individually matched for chronological age and performance on the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS; Dunn, Dunn, & Whetton, 1982), were compared on those items of the BPVS that independent raters judged (a) emotion-related and (b) highly abstract. Compared to control subjects, autistic individuals scored lower on emotion-related vis-à-vis emotion-unrelated items, an effect that could not be attributed to the “social content” of the items. However, autistic and nonautistic subjects achieved similar scores when responding to highly abstract vis-à-vis “concrete” words of the BPVS. The findings suggest that autistic individuals have specific impairments in grasping emotion-related concepts. They also suggest the need for further study of autistic and nonautistic retarded subjects' difficulties in abstracting. The results have a bearing on the interpretation of the BPVS and on the use of this test as a matching procedure.

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This study was funded by a Project Grant from the Medical Research Council, whilst Dr. Hobson was an MRC Senior Fellow. We thank Janet Ouston for her major part in the original BPVS testing of subjects, Beate Hermelin for her persistent encouragement and lively criticism, and Cathy Lord for her most helpful suggestions. We are very grateful to the individuals who took part in the study, and to the staff who so kindly helped us at the Helen Allison School and Tivoli House, Gravesend, and the Cherry Orchard Centre, Croydon.

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Hobson, R.P., Lee, A. Emotion-related and abstract concepts in autistic people: Evidence from the British Picture Vocabulary Scale. J Autism Dev Disord 19, 601–623 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02212860

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