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Episodic memory retrieval for story characters in high-functioning autism

Hidetsugu Komeda1*, Hirotaka Kosaka23, Daisuke N Saito24, Keisuke Inohara23, Toshio Munesue5, Makoto Ishitobi3, Makoto Sato26 and Hidehiko Okazawa24

Author Affiliations

1 The Hakubi Center for Advanced Research, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

2 Research Center for Child Mental Development, University of Fukui, Fukui, Japan

3 Department of Neuropsychiatry, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Fukui, Fukui, Japan

4 Biomedical Imaging Research Center, University of Fukui, Fukui, Japan

5 Research Center for Child Mental Development, Kanazawa University, Kanazawa, Japan

6 Department of Morphological and Physiological Sciences, Division of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Fukui, Fukui, Japan

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Molecular Autism 2013, 4:20  doi:10.1186/2040-2392-4-20

Published: 24 June 2013



The objective of this study was to examine differences in episodic memory retrieval between individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing (TD) individuals. Previous studies have shown that personality similarities between readers and characters facilitated reading comprehension. Highly extraverted participants read stories featuring extraverted protagonists more easily and judged the outcomes of such stories more rapidly than did less extraverted participants. Similarly, highly neurotic participants judged the outcomes of stories with neurotic protagonists more rapidly than did participants with low levels of neuroticism. However, the impact of the similarity effect on memory retrieval remains unclear. This study tested our ‘similarity hypothesis’, namely that memory retrieval is enhanced when readers with ASD and TD readers read stories featuring protagonists with ASD and with characteristics associated with TD individuals, respectively.


Eighteen Japanese individuals (one female) with high-functioning ASD (aged 17 to 40 years) and 17 age- and intelligence quotient (IQ)-matched Japanese (one female) TD participants (aged 22 to 40 years) read 24 stories; 12 stories featured protagonists with ASD characteristics, and the other 12 featured TD protagonists. Participants read a single sentence at a time and pressed a spacebar to advance to the next sentence. After reading all 24 stories, they were asked to complete a recognition task about the target sentence in each story.


To investigate episodic memory in ASD, we analyzed encoding based on the reading times for and readability of the stories and retrieval processes based on the accuracy of and response times for sentence recognition. Although the results showed no differences between ASD and TD groups in encoding processes, they did reveal inter-group differences in memory retrieval. Although individuals with ASD demonstrated the same level of accuracy as did TD individuals, their patterns of memory retrieval differed with respect to response times.


Individuals with ASD more effectively retrieved ASD-congruent than ASD-incongruent sentences, and TD individuals retrieved stories with TD more effectively than stories with ASD protagonists. Thus, similarity between reader and story character had different effects on memory retrieval in the ASD and TD groups.

High-functioning autism; Narrative comprehension; Recognition; Memory retrieval; Similarity