Emotion recognition and mind wandering in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism spectrum disorder
Helfer B, Boxhoorn S, Songa J, Steel C, Maltezos S, Asherson P.
J Psychiatr Res. 2020 Dec 22;134:89-96.
Commentary* by Dr. Margaret Weiss: It’s not just can you recognize emotions, but also how quickly you can access this information.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults are often undiagnosed and overlap in psychopathology. Here we investigated the transdiagnostic traits of emotion recognition and mind wandering in a sample of 103 adults (43 with ADHD and 14 with ASD).
The ability to correctly identify a facial expression of anger, fear, disgust or surprise was no different between the adults with ADHD or ASD and neurotypical (NT) adults. However, adults with ADHD or ASD were on average almost 200 ms slower in making a correct decision, suggesting a larger speed-accuracy trade-off in facial emotion recognition compared to NT adults. General processing speed was associated with excessive mind wandering in adults with ADHD, but not with ASD.
The deficits in emotional processing were independent from mind wandering in both adults with ADHD or ASD. Emotional dysregulation and functional impairment scales separated adults with ADHD and ASD from the NT adults, but not from each other. When controlling for self-reported ADHD and ASD symptom severity, mind wandering in ADHD was independent from both ADHD and ASD symptom severity.
In ASD, mind wandering was related to ASD but not ADHD symptom severity. Our results suggest that ASD and ADHD share a slower ability to recognize emotions, which is exacerbated by excessive mind wandering in ADHD, and by decreased processing speed in ASD.
* Abstracts are selected for their clinical relevance by Dr. Margaret Weiss, Director of Clinical Research, Child Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard University. Her commentary reflects her own opinion. It is not approved or necessarily representative of the CADDRA board.