Efficiency and Interaction during Information Transfer between Autistic and Neurotypical People
In this study, we adapted a cultural learning paradigm used widely in comparative psychology, to explore transmission of information between individuals, contrasting autistic, neurotypical, and mixed neurotypical/autistic pairs.
One possibility is that transmitting information to someone of a different neurotype is more demanding because of cognitive resources being required to, for example, mask autistic behaviours or interpret different social cues. This may result in less computational power to dedicate to the experimental task, reflected in reduced accuracy. Alternatively, or additionally, transmitting information to someone from a different diagnostic group might be harder because a lack of interpersonal affiliation reduces motivation to attend to the other person, or to replicate their actions precisely. This would result in lower feelings of rapport and less engagement in the task.
Objectives: To examine whether performance on cultural transmission tasks varies depending on the diagnostic status of the social partner.
Methods: Using a ‘diffusion chain’ technique - a controlled, experimental form of “telephone” which probes cultural learning between individuals in a group - a researcher told the first participant in each chain a story which they were told to pass on to the next participant. They were then asked to pass it on to the next participant, and so on. The story was divided a priori into 30 specific details, meaning accuracy was scored on a scale from 0-30. Each diffusion chain included eight participants; who were either all autistic, all neurotypical, or alternating autistic and neurotypical. Participant interactions were filmed and participants rated rapport with their partners after the task.
Results: Data collection was completed in November 2018; at the time of submission 64 of 72 participants data have been scored for accuracy. Figure 1 illustrates these preliminary findings from three autistic (n=24), three alternating (n=24), and two neurotypical (n = 16) diffusion chains. Results indicate that accuracy in story details declines more slowly for both all-autistic and all-neurotypical chains. However, alternating chains show a steeper decline and lower final accuracy scores. Planned analyses on the complete dataset will explore the difference scores between pairs in each chain. In addition, we will report data on participant’s perception of rapport, and coded video capturing interactive behaviours between pairs.
Conclusions: Preliminary findings suggest that both autistic and neurotypical people benefit from having an interaction partner with the same diagnostic status, when performing an information transfer task. These findings will be interpreted in light of an emergent autism theory: the Double Empathy Problem.
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