International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Pre-Conceptual Self-Awareness of own Agency in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Pre-Conceptual Self-Awareness of own Agency in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thursday, May 15, 2008: 11:00 AM
Mancy (Novotel London West)
D. Williams , Institute of Child Health, University College London, London, United Kingdom
F. Happé , Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, London, United Kingdom
Background: The self-monitoring-deficit view of ASD (e.g., Russell & Hill, 2001), proposes a primary impairment in pre-conceptual self-awareness of own agency and actions.  This leaves affected individuals with little feeling of responsibility for their own actions ‘from the inside’.  By contrast, Williams and Happé (at IMFAR 2007) suggested their findings of ASD-specific deficits in reflexive self-awareness were better explained by an extension of the ‘Theory of Mind’ account of ASD.
Objectives: To assess whether deficits in self-monitoring characterize ASD and what implications such difficulties may have for theory and intervention.

Methods: Sixteen individuals with ASD and 16 IQ-matched comparison participants took part in each study.  In Study 1, participants completed a computerized task, based on that implemented by Russell and Hill (2001) but designed to produce greater variation in performance.  The aim was to identify which of several coloured squares was under the participants’ control, through movements of the mouse (Self condition) and which were controlled by the computer.  In an ‘Other-person’ condition, the participant held the mouse but the experimenter was in control of its movements.  The task here was to detect the other’s agency.  In Study 2, participants completed a self-other source memory test for cards laid on a picture board by themselves or by the experimenter.

Results: Participants with ASD performed similarly in terms of levels and, importantly, patterns of performance to comparison participants.  In Study 1, each group found it easier to monitor their own actions/agency than to monitor the agency of the experimenter.  Both groups also showed a ‘self-reference effect’ in Study 2, recalling the cards laid by themselves more reliably than those laid by the experimenter. 

Conclusions: Although deficits in conceptual ‘theory of own mind’ characterize ASD (Williams & Happé, 2007), difficulties in self-awareness at the pre-conceptual level of action monitoring are not apparent.

See more of: Cognition 1
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