The Role of executive functions in social cognition among children with down syndrome: relationship patterns

Many studies show a link between social cognition, a set of cognitive and emotional abilities applied to social situations, and executive functions in typical developing children. Children with Down syndrome (DS) show deficits both in social cognition and in some subcomponents of executive functions. However this link has barely been studied in this population. The aim of this study is to investigate the links between social cognition and executive functions among children with DS. We administered a battery of social cognition and executive function tasks (six theory of mind tasks, a test of emotion comprehension, and three executive function tasks) to a group of 30 participants with DS between 4 and 12 years of age. The same tasks were administered to a chronological-age control group and to a control group with the same linguistic development level. Results showed that apart from deficits in social cognition and executive function abilities, children with DS displayed a slight improvement with increasing chronological age and language development in those abilities. Correlational analysis suggested that working memory was the only component that remained constant in the relation patterns of the three groups of participants, being the relation patterns similar among participants with DS and the language development control group. A multiple linear regression showed that working memory explained above 50% of the variability of social cognition in DS participants and in language development control group, whereas in the chronological-age control group this component only explained 31% of the variability. These findings, and specifically the link between working memory and social cognition, are discussed on the basis of their theoretical and practical implications for children with DS. We discuss the possibility to use a working memory training to improve social cognition in this population ​
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