Impaired executive function (EF), verbal comprehension, and theory of mind (ToM) may contribute to social difficulties in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The linkage between cool (cognitive) EF and ToM has been widely investigated, but the relations between hot (affective) EF and ToM remain largely unknown. The roles of cool EF and verbal comprehension have not been previously explored together to address hot EF–ToM relations. This study applied mediation analysis to investigate the mediating effects of cool EF and verbal comprehension to further elaborate the link between hot EF and ToM in children with ASD and average intellectual abilities. A total of 97 children with ASD aged from 6 to 12 years participated in this study. Children's cool EF, hot EF, and verbal comprehension were, respectively, measured with the computerized Dimensional Change Card Sort task, Children's Gambling Task, and the verbal comprehension index of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-fourth edition. Children's ToM was assessed with the Theory of Mind Task Battery. Partial correlation coefficients indicated that hot EF was significantly related with ToM with age controlled for. The results of the mediation analysis showed that cool EF and verbal comprehension mediated the linkage between hot EF and ToM. These findings highlight not only the connections between hot EF and ToM but also the importance of cool EF and verbal comprehension on hot EF–ToM relations in clinical assessments and interventions for school-aged children with ASD and average intellectual abilities. Lay Summary: Relatively few studies have investigated the hot (affective) executive function (EF)–theory of mind (ToM) relations in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This study discovered that hot EF was significantly related to ToM, while cool (cognitive) EF and verbal comprehension mediated the relationship between hot EF and ToM. Therefore, the influence of cool EF and verbal comprehension on hot EF–ToM relations should be considered in studies involving children with ASD. Autism Res 2021, 14: 921–931.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Neurology