Imagination Matters: Effects of Autistic Traits on Stereotyping and Stereotype Reduction in Non-Clinical Population

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
L. S. Iao and E. Jones, Department of Psychology, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Background: Stereotyping heuristically provides perceivers with information that are necessary in social contexts. As an energy-saving device, stereotyping may be useful for individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) who find social situations taxing although recent studies suggested reduced implicit stereotyping in ASC. Recent research also showed that elaborated imagined contact (EIC) reduces stereotypes, suggesting a relationship between imagination and stereotyping. Given that individuals with ASC also tend to have difficulties in spontaneous imagination, this study investigated stereotyping and stereotype reduction in ASC, focusing on the traits related to social and imagination skills.

Objectives: This study investigated whether ASC traits were related to stereotyping on one recent prominent target of stereotyping (i.e., Muslims) and whether ASC traits had an effect on the effectiveness of EIC in reducing stereotypes.

Methods: Sixty-one native English-speakers (53 females; mean age = 21.41 years, SD = 3.31 years, range = 18 – 38 years) who were not Muslims first completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient questionnaire (AQ; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) and the stereotype endorsement scale (SES; Feret, Conway & Austin, 2006), which was adapted to assess stereotypes on Muslims. They then participate in an EIC task and completed the SES for a second time.

Results: The total AQ score and the Imagination subscale score (ISS), but not the Social Skills subscale score, were correlated with the first SES score. A 2x2 mixed ANOVA with group (low vs. high AQ score) and time (before vs. after EIC) showed a main effect of time, F(1, 59) = 35.92, p < .001, suggesting that the SES scores after EIC (M = 61.48, SD = 5.39 for the low AQ group and M = 62.72, SD = 3.81 for the high AQ group) were significantly lower than those before EIC (M = 66.72, SD = 5.58 for the low AQ group and M = 67.34, SD = 5.82 for the high AQ group). There was no other main effect or interaction. Another 2x2 mixed ANOVA with group (low vs. high ISS) and time showed a main effect of time, F(1, 59) = 34.64, p < .001, and a significant interaction, F(1, 59) = 8.27, p < .01. There was no other main effect. Post hoc tests indicated that EIC significantly reduced the SES score from 64.73 (SD = 4.99) to 62.38 (SD = 4.70) for the low ISS group (p = .05) and from 68.77 (SD = 5.59) to 61.94 (SD = 4.64) for the high ISS group (p < .001). Moreover, the high ISS group had a higher SES score than the low ISS group before EIC (p < .01) but not after EIC (p = .72). These findings suggested that EIC was more effective for the high ISS group due to a higher SES score before EIC.

Conclusions: Individuals with higher ASC traits, particularly traits related to imagination, were more likely to show enhanced explicit stereotyping on Muslims. Moreover, EIC was effective in reducing stereotypes across the autism spectrum in a non-clinical population.