Individuals with and without ASD Describe “Funny” Videos in Similar Ways

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
E. F. Ferguson1, L. Bateman1, M. Cola2, Z. M. Dravis2, S. Uh2, S. Plate2, N. Minyanou2, A. Pomykacz3, K. Bassanello2, A. Zoltowski4, J. D. Herrington5, K. Bartley5, E. S. Kim2, A. de Marchena6, J. Pandey2, R. T. Schultz2 and J. Parish-Morris2, (1)The Center for Autism Research/CHOP, Philadelphia, PA, (2)Center for Autism Research, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, (3)Children's Hospital of Philadelphia- Center for Autism Research, Philadelphia, PA, (4)Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, (5)Center for Autism Research, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, (6)University of the Sciences, Philadelphia, PA
Background: Humor is key to positive social interactions, but very little is known about humor in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior research suggests that individuals with ASD are more likely to select straightforward endings to jokes, which require more abstract thought than stories (Emerich et al., 2003), and are less likely to take mental states into account when describing cartoons (Samson & Hegenloh, 2009). This study is the first to explore verbal descriptions of two funny videos; one that is simple slapstick and one that is more socially complex and includes contrasting emotions. We hypothesized that participants with ASD and typical development (TD) would produce more positively-valenced descriptions of the slapstick video, and that the ASD group would use fewer cognitive words when describing the socially complex video.

Objectives: Compare verbal descriptions of two funny videos in individuals with and without ASD.

Methods: Fifty-eight individuals (ASD=37, 12f; TD=21, 14f) watched and then described two short videos that showed: 1) a baby laughing at a dog chasing bubbles (Fig.1a), and 2) a father giving his baby a lemon wedge to taste for the first time (Fig.1b). Groups did not differ on mean age (15y) or IQ (M=106), but did differ on sex ratio (this limitation will be addressed by May, 2018). Verbal descriptions of each video were orthographically transcribed and processed using the qdap package (R) and Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software (Tausczik & Pennebaker, 2010). Our primary dependent variables were the polarity of each video description (dimensional valence from negative to positive), and proportion of total words that referred to cognitive processes.

Results: The average duration of each video description (~18s) and number of words produced per video (~30) did not differ by group. Linear mixed effects models tested effects of diagnosis (ASD/TD), video (Bubbles/Lemon), and diagnosis*video on polarity and cognitive words. As predicted, ASD and TD participants produced more positively polarized descriptions of the Bubbles video than the Lemon video, F(1, 112)=51.81, p<.001. The Lemon video elicited words such as “disgusted”, suggesting that participants in both groups were sensitive to the baby’s emotional state. The Lemon video also elicited a higher proportion of words about cognitive processes in both groups, F(1, 112)=20.42, p<.001. This confirmed our assessment that it is imbued with more social-cognitive complexity than the Bubbles video, but the lack of interaction with diagnostic group was contrary to our expectation that the ASD group would talk comparatively less about cognitive processes.

Conclusions: Our findings contrast with prior literature, suggesting possible next steps in the goal of understanding humor in ASD. To capture response patterns more fully, we will use coded facial expressions (e.g., smiling, grimacing) to predict video descriptions. We are increasing our sample size to explore developmental change, and equalizing sex ratios to examine sex differences. Audible laughter is an area of relative social strength for individuals with ASD (Hudenko & Magenheimer, 2011), and humor research thus has important implications for promoting positive peer outcomes in social skills interventions.