Higher Autism Traits in the General Population Are Related to Reduced Intuition and Reduced Reasoning Bias.

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
M. Lewton1, C. Ashwin2 and M. Brosnan3, (1)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (2)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (3)Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

A defining feature of being human is the ability to think rationally, however, typically humans have a propensity to base judgements on prior beliefs and experiences, rather than on a more logical and complete reasoning process. Dual Process Theory proposes both intuitive ‘Type 1’ and deliberative ‘Type 2’ processing. Type 1 (intuitive) processing is autonomous and typically involves rapid, effortless, parallel, non-conscious processing that is independent of working memory and cognitive ability. Type 2 (deliberative) processing, on the other hand, involves slower, effortful, sequential, conscious processing and is heavily dependent on working memory and related to individual differences in general cognitive ability. Within Dual Process Theory, Type 1 processing is assumed to yield default responses unless intervened upon by Type 2 reasoning processes. However, The Dual Process Theory of Autism proposes that both those with autism and those with higher autistic-like traits from the general population have a relative predisposition towards Type 2 processing.


To identify the relationship between autistic-like traits and two assessments of judgements based on intuition and prior beliefs and experiences.


206 British adult participants aged between 18 and 62 years (M = 27.25, SD = 8.89) took part in the study, comprising 105 males and 99 females. Autistic-like traits were assessed using the original 50-item version of the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). The Cognitive Reflection Task (CRT) has 3-items each of which has a potentially intuitive and deliberative answer. Eight syllogistic reasoning problems were presented, four of the problems had correct answers consistent with real world validity – congruent, and four problems had answers inconsistent with reality - incongruent. A ‘Belief Bias’ was calculated by subtracting the incongruent total from the congruent total. General non-verbal cognitive ability was assessed through Raven’s matrices.


A linear multiple regression was run under 2 models with AQ as the dependent variable: 1) with the demographic variables of sex, age and general non-verbal cognitive ability as the predictors; and 2) adding intuition (CRT) and Belief Bias as predictors. Both models were significant (F=8.22, p<.001; F=12.42, p<.001; respectively). Age was a significant variable in both models, older people having higher AQ scores (t=4.89, p<.001; t=3.83, p<.001; respectively). In addition in Model 2, both Belief Bias (t=-3.74, P<.001) and Intuition (CRT: t= -2.44, p<.05) were significant, higher AQ scores being predicted by lower intuition and lower belief bias. General non-verbal cognitive ability was not a significant predictor (t=1.13, ns).


This is the first study to show that higher autistic-like traits in the general population relate to a reduced propensity to base judgements on intuitive prior beliefs and experiences. This is consistent with the Dual Process Theory of Autism, which proposes that higher autistic traits (and autism) are related to a reduced default to Type 1 processing and greater predisposition to Type 2 (deliberative) processing. AQ was not significantly predicted by general non-verbal cognitive ability, highlighting that higher autistic-like traits may relate to a predisposition to engage in deliberative reasoning, but not to reasoning ability per se.