Intuitive and Reflective Reasoning in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. Brosnan1, M. Lewton2 and C. Ashwin3, (1)Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (2)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (3)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Dual Process Theory has been a major theory within psychology for over 50 years. It proposes that there are two distinct types of reasoning process: Type 1 which is autonomous and typically rapid and nonconscious (‘intuition’), and Type 2 which is typically slower and conscious (‘reflective’) and dependent upon working memory capabilities. Recently a Dual Process Theory of Autism has been proposed to suggest that reasoning in Autism can be characterised as Type 2 processing dominating over Type 1 processing (Brosnan et al., 2016). This can be assessed through the Cognitive Reflection test (CRT) which is a series of three apparently simple questions that have a correct reflective response but also an incorrect response that is argued to be an intuitive response. The task is not purely ipsative as it is also possible to make random errors. The typical dominance of the intuitive response in this task is reflected in only 17% of over three thousand American college students getting all the questions correct.


Investigate the relationship between autistic traits and autism diagnosis upon intuitive and reflective responses on the CRT – controlling for an index of non-verbal IQ.


Participants were 26 people with a diagnosis of autism (17M, 9F) and 22 Typically Developing (TD) controls (11M, 11F), with the proportion of males and females not significantly different between the groups (Chi=1.16, p>.05). Participants were 16-24 years old (mean = 18.31, sd=1.40), and age did not significantly differ between the groups. Participants completed the AQ, the CRT and 12 items (subscale I) of Ravens Matrices as an index of non-verbal IQ (NVIQ).


The means (standard deviations) for both groups are reported in Table 1. A MANOVA was conducted with CRT-Intuitive and CRT-Reflective responses as the dependent variables and Group (ASD/TD) as the independent variable with sex (Male/Female) and NVIQ as covariates. The ASD group made significantly less intuitive responses (F(1,44)=4.43, p<.05), with no significant difference in reflective responses (F(1,44)=2.38, p>.05). The covariates were not significant. Finally a partial correlation controlling for group (ASD/TD) and sex (Male/female) revealed a significant negative correlation between autistic-like traits and CRT-Intuitive (r(44)= -.29, p<.05) and a significant positive correlation between autistic-like traits and CRT-Deliberative (r(44)= +.25, p<.05).

Table 1



AQ (max 50)

29.42 (5.48)

14.73 (4.91)

t(46)=9.71, p<.001

NVIQ (max 12)

9.58 (1.72)

9.91 (1.44)


CRT_Intuitive (max 3)

0.54 (0.71)

1.14 (1.04)

t(46)=2.36, p<.05

CRT_Reflective (max 3)

1.38 (0.85)

1.82 (1.10)



Consistent with the Dual Process Theory of Autism, higher autistic-like traits and a diagnosis of ASD related to fewer intuitive responses. Higher autistic-like traits related to more reflective responses, although there were no group differences in this measure. Together, the results support the Dual Process Theory of Autism and suggest ASD is characterised as being less intuitive and more deliberative than controls. Intuitive responses are incorrect responses, however, the group difference was identified controlling for NVIQ, indicating that more intuitive responding is not solely due to generally lower levels of reasoning ability in ASD.