Understanding How Autistic and Neurotypical Adults Make Social Decisions

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During an interaction, autistic and neurotypical individuals differ in the way they integrate various pieces of social information when deciding how to respond. A cognitive process involved in this is Theory of Mind (ToM), which is the ability to infer mental states, intentions, beliefs and thoughts to oneself and others. However, there is still little information regarding how autistic individuals process social information when undergoing an interaction. The present study utilized an interactive game that required both autistic and neurotypical participants to guess a hidden color, either green or blue, as accurately as possible. To help them with their guess, they were able to use a randomly-generated computer guess and the advice from two Advisors, one being more helpful than the other. After testing 15 neurotypical and 4 autistic young adults, this preliminary data found that both autistic and neurotypical participants made a clear distinction between the two advisors by preferring the helpful advisor’s advice over the ambiguous advisor’s advice. The neurotypical participants relied more heavily on either advisor’s advice than the autistic participants did. Looking at the accuracy levels of the participants’ blue/green guesses, neurotypical participants were 57% accurate and the autistic participants were 60% accurate. The neurotypical participants were more accurate with their guesses when following the helpful advisor, whereas the condition of the advisor did not matter in the accuracy levels of the autistic participants. These results may indicate that autistic and neurotypical adults utilize different pieces of information to inform their responses in social situations.