Oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder (ODD/CD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) share poor empathic functioning and have been associated with impaired emotional processing. However, no previous studies directly compared similarities and differences in these processes for the two disorders. A two-choice emotional valence detection task requiring differentiation between positive, negative, and neutral IAPS pictures was administered to 52 adolescents (12-19 years) with ODD/CD, 52 with ASD and 24 typically developing individuals (TDI). Callous-unemotional (CU) traits were assessed by self- and parent reports using the Inventory of callous-unemotional traits. Main findings were that adolescents with ODD/CD or ASD both performed poorer than TDI in terms of accuracy, yet only the TDI-not both clinical groups-had relatively most difficulty in discriminating between positive versus neutral pictures compared to neutral-negative or positive-negative contrasts. Poorer performance was related to a higher level of CU traits. The results of the current study suggest youth with ODD/CD or ASD have a diminished ability to detect emotional valence which is not limited to facial expressions and is related to a higher level of CU traits. More specifically, youth with ODD/CD or ASD seem to have a reduced processing of positive stimuli and/or lack a 'positive perception bias' present in TDI that could either contribute to the symptoms and/or be a result of having the disorder and may contribute to the comorbidity of both disorders.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Callous–unemotional traits; Conduct disorder; Emotional valence detection task; Oppositional defiant disorder.