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Hemmers, Julia; Baethge, Christopher; Vogeley, Kai; Falter-Wagner, Christine M. (2022): Are Executive Dysfunctions Relevant for the Autism-Specific Cognitive Profile? Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13. ISSN 1664-0640

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Executive functions (EF) have been shown to be important for the understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but dysfunctions of EF are not autism-specific. The specific role of EF in ASD, its relationship to core autism characteristics, such as mentalizing, needs to be explored. Medline- and PsychINFO databases were searched for studies published between 1990 and 2020 that included measures of EF in ASD and typically developing control persons (TD) in combination with either Theory of Mind (ToM) or Weak Central Coherence (WCC) tasks. A pre-registered meta-analysis and cross-study regression was performed including a total of 42 studies (ASD n = 1,546, TD n = 1,206). Results were reported according to PRISMA guidelines. In all cognitive domains, the ASD group showed significantly reduced performance. Importantly, EF subdomains and ToM were not significantly correlated. This finding rules out a significant association between EF subdomains and ToM and questions the relevance of EF dysfunctions for the autism-specific feature of reduced mentalizing.

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