Semester of Graduation

Spring 2023


Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The relationships between concepts are dynamic in that when you are presented with a word (e.g., “story”), this concept will mean one thing if you are teaching at a preschool (i.e, story time) and something else if you are looking for an office in a high rise (i.e., “What story is it on?”). The structure of these relationships is encoded in our lexical semantic memory and is often assessed using word association tasks. Recent work has implemented a word association paradigm in a child-oriented context (Cox & Haebig, 2022). Associations in this context were more child friendly and had different similarity structures among cues than free associations. This could be due to executive control mechanisms in that responses were actively filtered to search for child-appropriate responses, or the context changed the association weights for certain associates. This study explores the mechanisms driving this effect by comparing child-oriented and context-free associations from non-autistic, as well as autistic populations who have core deficits in social cognition as well as difficulties with semantic control and encoding. We collected 60 associations from 100 autistic (Mean age = 29 years) and 100 non-autistic (Mean age = 33.2 years) participants randomly assigned to either the child-oriented or context-free conditions. We found that both our autistic and non-autistic groups provided more child-oriented responses in the child-oriented context with no difference between the groups. Additionally, we found that neither group yielded different similarity structures among cues in the child-oriented condition. The results suggest that autistic individuals can generate associations in a child-oriented context.



Committee Chair

Cox, Christopher



Available for download on Saturday, January 26, 2030