Can Reasoning and Decision Making in ASD be Conceptualised As More Deliberative or Less Intuitive?

Saturday, May 17, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
M. Brosnan1, M. E. Hollinworth1 and K. Antoniadou2, (1)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (2)Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands
Background:  Dual-process accounts of human cognition suggest two distinct types of reasoning and decision-making; a fast ‘intuition’ that is independent of working memory and cognitive ability and a slower analytical-logical ‘deliberation’ that is heavily dependent on working memory and related to individual differences in cognitive ability. Those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can tend towards deliberative reasoning and decision-making which some authors have attributed to impairment within the rapid/ intuitive mechanisms. However, intuition has not been explicitly assessed in ASD. The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) is a three-item assessment designed to measure the tendency to override a prepotent intuitive response that is incorrect and to engage in further deliberation that leads to the correct response. As the CRT is a performance measure that can provide indication of intuitive responses and deliberative responses (as well as erroneous responses), it has been widely used within the general population. Sex differences have been identified that suggest females are more intuitive and males are more deliberative. The Extreme Male Brain (EMB) theory of autism proposes that sex differences in the general population are exaggerated within ASD. 

Objectives:  Identify whether those with ASD will be both more deliberative and less intuitive.

Methods: Participants comprised of 21 people with a clinical diagnosis of ASD (4 female), and 21 males and 38 females (mean age 20 years, sd=2.5). Participants were taken from the University population and the ASD participants additionally self-completed the Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale-Revised and a significant other (typically a parent) completed the Social Communication Questionnaire. All participants undertook a computer-based version of the CRT. This allowed for the order of questions to be randomised and response times to be recorded. 

Results:  ANOVA analyses revealed a group difference in Deliberative responses (ASD(1.9) > male(1.3) > female(0.8): p<.001) and Intuitive responses (ASD(0.9) < male(1.2) < female(1.7); p<.05). There were no significant group differences in incorrect responses or time taken to complete the test, or time to make either deliberative or intuitive responses (all p>.05). Post-test analyses revealed that for Deliberative responses the ASD group scored significantly higher than the male group who in turn scored significantly higher than the female group (p<.05). For Intuitive responses, the ASD group significantly lower than the female group (p<.001; neither group differed significantly from the male group). 

Conclusions:  The results are consistent with conceptualising ASD as a relatively more deliberative reasoning and decision making style. Although there was a trend for ASD to be associated with less intuitive reasoning and decision making, the ASD group did not differ from the male group. The results are consistent with the EMB theory of Autism and suggest dual cognition accounts are relevant to understanding ASD. The timing data suggest that a speed-accuracy trade-off account cannot fully explain the findings. The ASD group responded in a manner suggesting that prepotent intuitive responses were being overridden and further deliberations were being undertaken. This, however, does not necessarily imply impairment within rapid/intuitive mechanisms.