CORRELATION OF ANXIETY IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER Abstract The study examined how individuals with autism often fail to successfully relate with others in social situations. Undergraduate Students of the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychology (N=472) participated in an online survey which included the Autism Quotient test (AQ), the Fear of Negative Evaluation Questionnaire (FNE) and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS).
The purpose of this was to measure the likelihood of a correlation between a high score on the Autism Quotient test and high scores on both the Fear of Negative Evaluation Questionnaire and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale. It was predicted that individuals with autism would score high on the SIAS and FNE tests and therefore a link between autism and social anxiety could be established. The Correlation of Anxiety in Social Situations and Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder The study examined how individuals with autism often fail to successfully relate with others in social situations.
It is thought that either individuals with Autism were not interested in social activities or that individuals want to interact socially but lack the skills necessary for this. The term autism was originally introduced by the psychiatrist Kanner (1943) to explain a syndrome he observed in some of his child patients. Kanner identified the key features of autism, which include “impairments in social interaction and communication skills, coupled with unusual interest patterns and stereotyped behaviours. (Schopler, E, Mesibov, G 1986 p6) He suggested that autism was an inborn fault, as he observed that symptoms were often present from a very young age. According to Simon Baron-Cohen “the core shortfall of autism is the autistic person’s incapability to use theory of mind. ” (http://www. holah. co. uk/study/baroncohen/) Having a theory of mind is the capacity to recognize that other people have independent minds of their own. This is therefore a cognitive deficit. Simon Baron-Cohen argues that “impairments in the expansion of a theory of mind may cause the social, ommunicative, and imaginative impairments of people with autism” (http://www. holah. co. uk/study/baroncohen/) since a theory of mind is needed for standard growth in each of these three areas. The study conducted by the first year psychology students was a replica of previous studies and was used to observe the correlation between personality and psychological traits in order to establish the legitimacy of particular questionnaires’ in assessing character traits. The study aimed to show that individuals with autism want to interact in social situations but lack the abilities to do so.
It was hypothesized that participants in this study who had a high Autism Quotient test score, would also have high scores on the Fear of Negative Evaluation Questionnaire (FNE) and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS). Method Participants The experiment was conducted using 472 Undergraduate students of the University of Western Australia who are studying first year Psychology. They participated in this study as part of the course requirements for first year psychology. The majority of the students were female and the estimated mean age is 20. 7 years old. Apparatus The Materials included; a computer, a mouse, a keyboard and the internet. The computer opened onto a web page which contained the instructions of the experiment. The participants then had to answer a series of 155 questions presented in a survey format. The questions are those from the MOCI, EDI-P, DAAS, PSWQ, AQ, FNE and SIAS tests. These tests involve a series of questions which are in a forced choice answer format. The questionnaires that this study concentrated on were the AQ, the FNE and the SIAS test.
In the AQ test, there were 50 questions, each of which allowed the subject to indicate “Definitely agree”, “Slightly agree”, “Slightly disagree” or “Definitely disagree”. In the FNE test, there were 12 questions which indicated a “true” or “false” response. In the SIAS test, there were 20 questions which also required a forced choice answer of “not at all”, “a little bit”, “moderately”, “quite a bit” or “extremely”. After all of the questions were answered there was a “demographic” section that the participant was required to fill out, answering “age”, “gender”, “first language” and “ethnicity”.
There were also optional questions regarding previous diagnosis of psychological disorders and asking if any of the participants relations had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Procedure The participants had to log into their personal WEBCT page, using their University student card and password and complete the questionnaire. The questionnaire was provided on the Psychology page under the “data collection” link. Once the participant had completed the 155 questions of the survey, they submitted the questionnaire.
The questionnaire was expected to take 30 to 40 minutes to complete. Results Figure 1. shows the results of the study of the AQ, FNE and SIAS autism tests. Table 1. Mean, SD, Lowest and Highest Scores of the AQ, SIAS and FNE tests | |Mean |SD |Lowest |Highest | |Age |20. 17 |5. 67 |17 |60 | |FNE Total |8. 7 |4. 04 |0 |12 | |SIAS Total |24. 15 |13. 69 |0 |69 | |AQ Total |16. 12 |6. 01 |2 |39 | The results show that the AQ and the SIAS had a correlation of 0. 57, which shows a positive, close relationship on a linear scale.
This means that the AQ and the SIAS tests are proportionally correlated, when the AQ score rises, so does the SIAS score. The correlation between the AQ and the FNE was 0. 36 which is weaker than that of the AQ and SIAS, but not entirely unrelated. Discussion The aim of the experiment was to determine whether an individual who scored a high test on the Autism Quotient test would also have a high score on both the Fear of Negative Evaluation Questionnaire and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale.
This hypothesis led to the key question which asked why individuals with autism often fail to successfully interact with others in social situations. A possible answer to this question was that individuals with autism want to interact with other socially but lack the skills to do so successfully. Another possible answer is that individuals with autism are not interested in social interaction. The findings on this experiment were that the majority of participants who scored high on the AQ test also scored relatively high scores on both the SIAS and the FNE.
However, the AQ and SIAS were more positively correlated and proportioned than the AQ and FNE. Research using the AQ test has found that participants with higher AQ scores reported significantly more loneliness and fewer and shorter durations of friendships. “Recent research suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may exhibit significantly higher levels of anxiety than the general. These studies suggest that individuals with ASD exhibit a broad range of anxious symptoms, including physiological arousal, panic, separation anxiety, and social anxiety. (Bellini, S pp 138–145) If research shows that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder show no social anxiety we would expect that they have no interest in social interaction. As it stands, the research shows that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder show a significantly higher amount of social anxiety compared to individuals without ASD. This shows that ASD individuals want to interact with other people but lack the social skills to be able to do so. This research therefore supports the hypothesis that individuals with high AQ test scores will also have high SIAS and FNE test scores.
This is because the autistic people feel greater social anxiety. “For individuals with ASD, excessive worry and distress regarding social situations may serve as a barrier to establishing meaningful social relationships. As a result of this social anxiety, many individuals with autism navigate the social world without the support of close friends or associates” (Bellini, S pp 138-145) This research and the correlation between the high Autism Quotient test results and the high Fear of Negative Evaluation Questionnaire and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale results are consistent with the hypothesis and theory of the study.
They are consistent with the theory that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are interested in social interaction but lack the necessary social skills to do so. This is because of the positive correlation between high scores on the Autism Quotient test and findings of high anxiety on the FNE and SIAS tests. Past and present research all report on high anxiety levels in individuals with autism but future research should report on what kind of social interaction causes the social anxiety and whether it is affected by environmental factors such as location and the type of people that the ASD individual is interacting with.
References Schopler, E. , Mesibov, G. , 1986 ‘Communication as a Social Problem in Autism’ in Social Behavior in Autism, Springer, North Carolina. “AS Psychology”, September 8 2009, Baron-Cohen et al [online] available from: http://www. holah. co. uk/study/baroncohen/ Bellini, S (2006) The Development of Social Anxiety in Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities 21, 138-145