The Relation between Preference for Predictability and Autistic Traits

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
J. Goris1, M. Brass1, J. R. Wiersema2 and S. Braem3, (1)Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium, (2)Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium, (3)Department of Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Background: A common idea about individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is that they have an above average preference for predictability and sameness. In fact, this idea is central to recent predictive coding accounts of ASD, that propose that a deficit in dealing with unexpected information could be the single impairment accounting for all ASD symptoms. However, the precise mechanisms underlying these preferences received surprisingly little attention in research.

Objectives: In the current study, we investigated whether we could observe this common symptom of ASD under controlled experimental conditions using three different paradigms. We used a dimensional approach in order to estimate the correlation between autistic traits and preference for predictability.

Methods: A large sample of participants (n = 164) was presented with three tasks that each measured preference for predictability in a different way, including both explicit and implicit measures. The first task assessed aesthetic preferences for sequences of tones that varied in their predictability. In the second task, we measured preference for perceptual fluency. The third task consisted of choosing between decks of cards with reward outcomes varying in predictability. Autistic traits were measured by using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS).

Results: We observed a significant positive correlation between autistic traits and preferences for both predictable sequences of tones and perceptual fluency. However, there was no correlation between behavior in the cards task and autistic traits.

Conclusions: These results show that there is a relation between autistic traits and preference for predictability in a standardized lab environment, but that this is restricted to specific situations. Our findings might indicate that the correlation is only apparent when preferences are explicitly measured as compared to implicitly investigated, and that transferring preferences from one context to another might be disturbed in ASD. However, as these studies are only a first step towards a better understanding of insistence on sameness, more research is necessary. Overall, we hope that these studies might inspire future systematic investigations into this key symptom of ASD.