International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Lower Levels of Prejudice in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions

Lower Levels of Prejudice in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions

Saturday, May 17, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
J. Kirchner , Independent Junior Research Group, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
K. Schnabel , Department of Psychology, Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany
F. Schmitz , Department of Psychology, Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
S. Prei▀ler , Independent Junior Research Group, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
I. Wolf , Independent Junior Research Group, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
S. Schneider , Independent Junior Research Group, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
H. R. Heekeren , Independent Junior Research Group, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
I. Dziobek , Independent Junior Research Group, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
Background: Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are characterized by impairments in Theory of Mind (ToM) and imitation, both of which are crucial for social learning. According to theoretical threads going back to Aranson (2004), social learning is an important mechanism underlying the development of prejudice. Cognitive rigidity is another factor thought to play a role.

Objectives: The study investigates our hypothesis that people with ASC have lower levels of prejudice than neurotypical controls, due to their deficit in social learning.

Methods: We compared a group of 20 German adults with ASC with a group of 20 neurotypical controls matched in nationality, age, gender and IQ on measures of prejudice. As explicit measure we used the group-focused enmity questionnaire (GFE, Heitmeyer, 2007, Zick et al., in press). A prejudice Implicit Association Test (IAT, Schmitz & Klauer, 2007) was used to assess prejudice more objectively. To account for the effects of cognitive rigidity, the German version of the “Personal need for structure” scale was administered (Machunsky et al, 2006).

Results: The group with ASC scored significantly higher on cognitive rigidity. Covariance analyses yielded significantly lower scores on the GFE in the group with ASC when controlling for cognitive rigidity. Moreover, we found significantly lower scores on the IAT in the group with ASC. Finally, there was a significant negative correlation (r = -.69) between the IAT and the Autism Spectrum Quotient (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001). No associations were found between the measures of prejudice and ToM abilities.

Conclusions: Both, explicit and implicit measures of prejudice revealed differences between the ASC and the control group in the anticipated direction. Moreover, higher degrees of autistic symptomatology were associated with a lower tendency for prejudice. However, levels of prejudice were not dependent on inferring others mental states.

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