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DogwoodTree

Still here...
This is, imo, a fascinating study on the verbal creativity of adults with ASD, especially as it compares to research on verbal abilities of ASD children...the results surprised the researchers.

Link:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00615/full

Quote from article:

Discussion
The present study examined metaphor processing in adults with ASD, differentiating between conventional and novel metaphors on tests of comprehension and generation. Our results show that adults with ASD demonstrate no difficulties in comprehension of conventional and novel metaphors. Furthermore, adults with ASD outperformed age-matched TD peers in metaphor generation. An inspection of the type of metaphors generated indicated that the ASD group produced more original and creative metaphors than did the TD group.

Whereas previous studies highlighted difficulties with metaphoric language comprehension in ASD (e.g., Happé, 1993, 1995; Ozonoff and Miller, 1996; Rundblad and Annaz, 2010; Kaland et al., 2011;Mashal and Kasirer, 2011), the current research shows similar comprehension of metaphors among ASD and age-matched TD peers. One of the differences between our study and earlier studies might be that we examined adults, unlike previous studies that focused primarily on children and adolescents. It is possible that the accumulated verbal knowledge that comes with age leads to greater familiarity with conventional metaphors within the ASD group. Indeed, previous studies have emphasized the contribution of vocabulary to the comprehension of metaphors (Evans and Gamble, 1988; Nippold, 1998; Chiappe and Chiappe, 2007; Silvia and Beaty, 2013). Consistent with this observation, we found that higher vocabulary scores were correlated with better comprehension of conventional metaphors (but not with comprehension of novel metaphors). The fact that we found equivalent comprehension across groups might also be related to the task that we used. It is possible that presenting metaphors in a multiple-choice questionnaire facilitated comprehension and was easier than were previously used tasks, such as asking comprehension questions about metaphoric stories (Rundblad and Annaz, 2010), requiring sentence completion (Norbury, 2005), or having participants perform a semantic judgment task (Hermann et al., 2013).

As expected, and in line with previous studies (Mashal and Kasirer, 2011; Melogno et al., 2012;Hermann et al., 2013), no difference was found between participants with ASD and TD age-matched peers in comprehension of novel metaphors. Novel metaphor interpretation is not coded in the mental lexicon and hence is not dependent on previous knowledge. Indeed, unlike the correlation between vocabulary and comprehension of conventional metaphors, no association was found between vocabulary and comprehension of novel metaphors. The ability to understand novel semantic connections between seemingly unrelated concepts appears to be intact in ASD, probably because it does not rely on activation of lexicalized expressions. Consistent with this finding,Melogno et al. (2012) emphasized that individuals with ASD can explain novel metaphoric phrases in unique ways that rely on phonological or semantic association. Thus, comprehension of novel metaphor is intact in ASD because it relies on good associative abilities rather than on lexicalized verbal knowledge.

Another finding of the current study is that contrary to our hypothesis, participants with ASD generated more metaphors than did age-matched peers. We were specifically interested in testing whether adults with ASD relied on previous knowledge, and were thus using familiar metaphors or idioms, or alternatively, whether they generated their own novel and original metaphors. We found that adults with ASD demonstrated greater verbal creativity than did TD individuals. Examples of creative sentence completions included phrases such as “Feeling successful is like seeing the view from the mountaintop” and “Feeling worthless is like offering a salad to South Americans.” These examples contrasted with more conventional figurative expressions provided by TD adults, such as “Feeling sad is to get the blues.” Our results suggest that adults with ASD can create unique verbal associations that are not restricted to previous knowledge, thus pointing to unique verbal creativity in ASD. It has been reported that one in ten people with autism shows some savant skills in such categories as music, art, calendar calculations, or mathematics (Treffert, 2009). Yet, most studies have indicated impoverished creativity in autism. For example, in standardized tests such as the Torrance Creativity Test (Torrance, 1974), people with ASD demonstrate difficulties in cognitive flexibility and imaginative fluency, as well as lack of imagination and originality compared to TD participants (Craig and Baron-Cohen, 1999).

Why, then, do adults with ASD demonstrate greater creativity in metaphor generation when previous studies found that they were lacking in imagination?

(cont. below)
 
Why, then, do adults with ASD demonstrate greater creativity in metaphor generation when previous studies found that they were lacking in imagination? Baron-Cohen et al. (2009) suggest that the hypersensitivity that characterizes autism gives rise to excellent attention to details. With respect to verbal creativity, this attention to details is associated with weak central coherence, leading to greater appreciation of local features over global ones. Lyons and Fitzgerald (2005)emphasized that in contrast to their social impairments individuals with Asperger syndrome are gifted with creativity and originality, excellent memory, strong focus of attention and specific cognitive styles. The unique verbal associations generated by the ASD group in the current study could thus reflect memory for details and weak central coherence. Another reason why adults with ASD generated more original metaphors might relate to difficulty in theory of mind. Mind-blindness makes one focus on one’s own thoughts, ignoring the addressee (Happé and Vital, 2009), possibly leading to production of expressions that are less conventional (Liu et al., 2011). Kanner (1946) was the first to note that the unique phrases produced by the children he studied could be interpreted as metaphoric language. Asperger (1941) also identified certain expressions in the speech of his patients that resembled the novel linguistic forms produced by young TD children. Asperger proposed that characteristics such as concrete intelligence and disregard of social conventions might be prerequisites for certain forms of new thinking and creativity (Gillberg, 2002). Fitzgerald (2004) also noted that individuals with Asperger syndrome have remarkable capacities for persistence and observation, high levels of energy and motivation, and abilities to focus intensely on a single topic. It appears that some individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome are highly creative, imaginative and original and even their humor can range from word-play and sound associations to precisely formulated, truly witty comments. According to Lyons and Fitzgerald (2004) some individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome also seem to master the cognitive processing of humor, i.e., incongruity and its resolution and switching of meanings as portrayed by the production of relatively sophisticated puns and word games.

In our final analysis we sought to identify the extent to which executive functions as well as verbal and non-verbal skills contribute to the prediction of metaphor comprehension and generation. We found that while verbal abilities, i.e., vocabulary and picture naming, contribute to the comprehension of conventional metaphors, this is not the case with regard to novel metaphors, in line with previous studies (e.g., Nippold, 1998; Chiappe and Chiappe, 2007; Silvia and Beaty, 2013). Furthermore, executive functions were shown to predict novel metaphor comprehension, as has been previously reported (Pennington and Ozonoff, 1996; Amanzio et al., 2008; Mashal and Kasirer, 2011; Mashal, 2013). More specifically, the TMT-B, which demands mental flexibility, contributed to the prediction of novel metaphor comprehension. We believe that comprehension of novel metaphors relies on flexibility because it is based on a shift between the literal and the metaphoric meanings of the words that appear in the new expression. Champagne-Lavau and Stip (2010) also found this correlation between the TMT-B and metaphor comprehension in schizophrenic and TD adults.

Finally, metaphor generation was predicted by non-verbal cognitive ability. Indeed, Silvia and Beaty (2012) have also emphasized the contribution of fluid intelligence to the generation of creative metaphors. It is possible that generation of metaphors, specifically novel ones, relies on the ability to come up with new solutions, assessed by tests of fluid intelligence. We note that a similar connection was documented in our study between non-verbal intelligence and simile generation, although no group differences in simile generation were found.

Some limitations of the study should be taken into account. Our measures of executive functions were rather limited and may need to be expanded to include the assessment of working memory and inhibition. Studies have shown that people with ASD may present difficulties in tasks that require response inhibition (e.g., Hughes and Russell, 1993; Hughes, 1996; Russell, 1997; Minshew et al., 1999; Hill, 2004; Robinson et al., 2009) or when they are required to shift from one response set to another (Ozonoff and Strayer, 1997; Ozonoff et al., 1998). It is possible that low response inhibition led to generation of unique verbal expressions by our ASD participants. Future studies will have to examine whether inhibition is associated with metaphor generation in ASD.

In sum, our findings indicate that adults with ASD are not impaired on comprehension of conventional and novel metaphors. We also found that adults with ASD generate more original metaphors relative to age-matched peers and that non-verbal skills contribute to this ability. The study points to unique verbal creativity in ASD which has not been studied in this way before.
 
Another reason why adults with ASD generated more original metaphors might relate to difficulty in theory of mind. Mind-blindness makes one focus on one’s own thoughts, ignoring the addressee (Happé and Vital, 2009), possibly leading to production of expressions that are less conventional (Liu et al., 2011). Kanner (1946) was the first to note that the unique phrases produced by the children he studied could be interpreted as metaphoric language.

Thank you for sharing this very interesting report. Th above quote finally explained the concept of Theory of mind and mind blindness in a way that I understand, and now I can see how this is something that affects me. Before it just puzzled me, and though it seemed like something that I might experience, not knowing what "it" is, I couldn't be sure.

Fascinating.
 

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