Rigidity coincides with reduced cognitive control to affective cues in children with autism.

The present study tested whether salient affective cues would negatively influence cognitive control in children with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One hundred children aged 6–12 years who were either typically developing or had ASD performed a novel go/no-go task to cues of their interest versus cues of noninterest. Linear mixed-effects (LME) models for hit rate, false alarms, and the sensitivity index d′ were used to test for group differences. Caregivers completed the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised to test associations between repetitive behaviors and task performance. Children with ASD had reduced cognitive control toward their interests compared with typically developing children. Further, children with ASD showed reduced cognitive control to interests compared with noninterests, a pattern not observed in typically developing children. Decreased cognitive control toward interests was associated with higher insistence on sameness behavior in ASD, but there was no association between sameness behavior and cognitive control for noninterests. Together, children with ASD demonstrated decreased cognitive flexibility in the context of increased affective salience related to interests. These results provide a mechanism for how salient affective cues, such as interests, interfere with daily functioning and social communication in ASD. Further, the findings have broader clinical implications for understanding how affective cues can drive interactions between restricted patterns of behavior and cognitive control. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)