Categorical and Dimensional Approaches to Examining the Joint Effect of Autism and Schizotypal Personality Disorder on Sustained Attention

Ahmad Abu-Akel, Ruth C.M. Philip, Stephen M. Lawrie, Eve C. Johnstone, Andrew C. Stanfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Accumulating evidence for the co-occurrence autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizotypal personality disorder (SPD) at both the diagnostic and symptom levels raises important questions about the nature of their association and the effect of their co-occurrence on the individual’s phenotype and functional outcome. Research comparing adults with ASD and SPD, as well as the impact of their co-occurrence on outcomes is extremely limited. We investigated executive functioning in terms of response inhibition and sustained attention, candidate endophenotypes of both conditions, in adults with ASD, SPD, comorbid ASD and SPD, and neurotypical adults using both categorical and dimensional approaches. Methods: A total of 88 adults (Mean Age = 37.54; SD = 10.17): ASD (n = 26; M/F = 20/6); SPD (n = 20; M/F = 14/6); comorbid ASD and SPD (n=9; M/F=6/3) and neurotypicals (n=33; M/F=23/10) completed the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) in both its fixed and random forms. Positive and autistic symptom severity was assessed with the positive subscale of the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSSpos) and the PANSS Autism Severity Score (PAUSS), respectively. Results: Controlling for full scale IQ, working memory and medication dosage, group analyses revealed that the comorbid group committed fewer omission errors than the ASD group on the fixed SART, and fewer omission errors than the ASD and SPD groups on the random SART. The individual difference analyses of the entire sample revealed that the PANSSpos and PAUSS interactively reduced omission errors in both the fixed and random SARTs, as well as increased d’ scores, indicative of improved overall performance. We observed no significant results for commission errors or reaction time. Conclusions: Concurrent elevated levels of autistic and positive psychotic symptoms seem to be associated with improved sustained attention abilities (reduced omission errors) but not inhibition (commission errors). Our findings highlight the importance of investigating the concurrent effect of ASD and SPD at both the symptom and diagnostic levels, and raise important questions for future research regarding the clinical and behavioral phenotypes of adults with dual diagnosis and, more generally, about the nature of the relationship between ASD and SPD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number798
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - 7 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Abu-Akel, Philip, Lawrie, Johnstone and Stanfield.


  • The Sustained Attention Response to Task (SART)
  • attention
  • comorbidity
  • executive function
  • inhibition
  • schizotypy
  • vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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