International Meeting for Autism Research: The Truth, Nothing but the Truth: When Children with Autism Care Less about Reputation Than Honesty

The Truth, Nothing but the Truth: When Children with Autism Care Less about Reputation Than Honesty

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
3:00 PM
C. Chevallier, C. Molesworth and F. Happe, Institute of Psychiatry, KCL, London, United Kingdom
Background: Human beings are endowed with a strong motivation to be included in social interactions. This natural social motivation encourages behaviours such as flattery or self-deprecation aimed to ease interaction and to enhance the reputation of the individual who produces it. Diminished social interest, as it is typically found in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is therefore likely to affect reputation management.

Objectives: Our goal in this study was two-fold: i) to test whether children with an ASD are less prone to flattery than their typically-developing (TD) peers, ii) to test whether flattery correlates with self-reports of social enjoyment.

Methods: 36 male adolescents (18 with a high functioning ASD and 18 TD) took part in the study. The ASD and the control groups were matched on chronological age (M = 13;10) and IQ (M = 102). Flattery task: in this simple protocol inspired by social psychology, participants were asked to rate ten drawings. Two of these drawings were subsequently presented again by a new experimenter for a second rating. The experimenter claimed to have drawn one of the drawings (the other drawing worked as a control). The dependent variable was the difference between the first and the second rating. Social pleasure: to assess social pleasure, we used a validated self-report scale (Kazdin, 1989) measuring anhedonia in various situations, including interpersonal contexts. Predictions: We predicted that TD but not ASD children would inflate their second rating for the experimenter’s drawing but not for the control drawing and that this index of flattery would correlate with self reports of social pleasure.

Results: Contrary to TD children, children with an ASD did not enhance their ratings in the presence of the drawer. There was no significant difference between their initial rating and their second rating, and the resulting difference score was similar to that obtained in the control condition (judging a picture in the artist’s absence). The anhedonia scale further demonstrated that participants’ flattery behaviour correlated with their self-report of enjoyment of social interactions: the higher the score in social anhedonia, the lower the score in flattery.

Conclusions: This study reveals that ASD participants do not display flattery behaviour and points to a diminished concern for reputation in the condition. This suggests that, in line with clinical observations, individuals on the spectrum may favour honesty over the concern for reputation. These findings are among the first to directly test reputation management in ASD and open new routes for investigation of social motivation in this condition.

| More