Behavioral data on episodic recollection in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) point limited relational memory functioning. However, the involvement of successive memory processes in the profile of episodic memory in ASD needs more study. Here, we used event-related potentials (ERP) to investigate the time course of episodic recollection with an associative recognition paradigm with picture pairs. Twenty-two participants with ASD and 32 with typical development (TD), all right-handed, were included. Behavioral results confirmed difficulties in correctly recognizing identical pairs in the ASD relative to TD group. We found an unexpected amplitude decrement on the P2 (220-270 msec) and FN400 (350-470 msec) potentials, suggesting diminished priming and familiarity effects in the ASD relative to TD group. However, ERP data revealed that the recognition of associative information relies on the same electrophysiological process (old/new effect in the 600-700-msec late positive component) in ASD participants as in TD ones, with a parietal extension in the ASD group. These results suggest that the electrophysiological processes of associative recognition are qualitatively similar in individuals with and without ASD but may differ quantitatively. This difference may be driven by the reduced early processing of picture pairs that may in turn lead to their diminished integration into the semantic memory system, being partially compensated by a greater involvement of associative memory during the recollection process. Other studies would be useful to go further in identifying these cognitive processes involved in atypical recognition in ASD and their neural substrates. LAY SUMMARY: We identified diminished performance on the associative recognition of picture pairs in adolescents and young adults with autism when compared to typical development. Electrophysiological data revealed qualitative similarities but quantitative differences between-group, with diminished priming and familiarity processes partially compensated by an enhanced parietal recollection process.
© 2020 International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.