“Thin-Slicing” Everyday Conversations: A Quick, Low-Cost Way to Add New Dimensionality to ASD Conceptualization
Objectives: First, compare “thin-slice” ratings between participants with ASD and typical development (TD). Second, compare “thin-slice” ratings of participants with ASD to scores from a parent questionnaire (SCQ) and expert clinical observation (ADOS). We hypothesized that since parent questionnaire scores are based on a lifetime of experience, and ADOS scores are based on a shorter (~1 hour) interaction, that 5-minute “thin-slice” ratings would more closely resemble ADOS scores than SCQ scores, despite the non-expert status of the rater.
Methods: Forty-five participants with ASD (N=28; 8 female) or typical development (TD; N=17; 13 female) completed a ~5 minute unstructured “get-to-know-you” session with a novel conversational partner (N=14, 11 female). Participant groups did not differ significantly on age (11.75 years) or IQ (106), but the TD group had more female participants than the ASD group (imbalance will be corrected by May, 2018). After each conversation, conversational partners completed a modified version of the Conversation Rating Scale (CRS; Ratto et al., 2011). The original CRS included 5 questions indexing conversational interest, warmth, flow, boredom, and distance on a 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree) Likert scale. A sixth question about appropriate eye contact was added for the purposes of this study.
Results: Linear mixed effects regression models with conversational partner as a random effect revealed that the ASD group received lower overall CRS scores than the TD group, and were perceived as significantly less warm and more distant, with less appropriate eye contact (ps<.01, Fig.1). There were no significant group differences in perceived boredom, interest, or conversational flow. Warmth, distance, and eye contact scores were combined into a 3-item CRS composite that was found to correlate with ADOS severity scores in the ASD group (r=-.62, p<.001), but not with SCQ scores (Fig.2).
Conclusions: “Thin-slice” ratings of naturalistic conversations hold promise as a low-cost metric to gauge the impression that individuals with ASD make on naïve communication partners in everyday life. In this study, we identified three questions about a 5-minute conversation with a naïve interlocutor that differentiated diagnostic groups, and accounted for nearly 40% of the variance in ADOS scores of participants with ASD. The CRS 3-item did not correlate with SCQ scores, suggesting that “thin-slice” ratings capture variance that is orthogonal to parent perceptions of autism symptoms. We propose that non-expert “thin-slice” ratings provide a more complete and nuanced picture of ASD in daily contexts, adding new dimensionality to our conceptualization of the disorder.