Individual Differences in Cooperation and Equality: Data from ASD

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
I. M. Eigsti, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
Background:   Society must balance the demand of community, associated with interdependence and empathy, with those of autonomy, associated with free will, independence, and self-fulfillment.  To meet these demands, both individuals and societies (Fukuyama, 1995) requirse cooperation and trust (Balliet & Van Lange, 2013) as well as the ability to predict others’ behaviors (McAllister, 1995).  Empathy and mentalizing play a critical role in the development of a shared system of values and principles of conduct (Smetana et al., 2012). This study evaluated individual differences in mentalizing (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985) and empathy (e.g., Sigman et al., 1992) by including individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who may show differences in both.

Objectives:   We measured social values orientation (SVO), the degree to which an individual prioritizes community over autonomy, and its association with empathy and mentalizing, in 1) adults with a verified ASD diagnosis, recruited through the Interactive Autism Network (IAN); and 2) adults recruited via M-Turk. Mentalizing abilities were assumed to fall along a broad continuum. We evaluated the degree to which mentalizing (associated with ASD symptomatology) and empathy mapped onto SVO. 

Methods:   SVO research has often relied upon complex narratives (e.g., Barnes et al., 2009) and verbally-demanding questions such as did the victim suffer or is the agent responsible (e.g., Buon et al., 2013), which typically excludes individuals with lower verbal skills. The current study made use of an experimental SVO game, which has been shown to reveal three primary patterns: (1) a prosocial orientation, in which cooperation and interdependence is a goal; (2) an individualist orientation that maximizes one’s own outcomes with no regard for others’ outcomes; and (3) a competitor orientation that maximizes one’s own outcomes relative to others, seeking a relative advantage (Van Lange, Otten, De Bruin, & Joireman, 1997). This game requires participants to imagine another person, with whom they are playing, and then to assign points to themselves and the other person on successive trials.  We measured ASD symptomatology via the Autism Spectrum Quotient self-report questionnaire (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) and empathy via the Empathy Quotient self-report questionnaire (Wheelwright et al., 2006). Our measures were programmed in Qualtrix and collected on-line. 

Results:  Participants included adults with (n=114) or without (n=45) ASD.  Results showed that adults with ASD were significantly less likely to adopt a competitive SVO, p<.001. In the M-Turk group but not the ASD group, AQ score was correlated with prosocial SVO. SVO patterns were not associated with empathy.

Conclusions:   ASD characteristics in the general population were associated with a preference that all participants in a game experience equal outcomes, compared to individuals low in ASD symptomatology. Individuals who met the full diagnostic criteria were less likely to maximize their outcomes and penalize their competitors. Social values of equity or fairness may depend more on an interest in rules and incentives (Balliet, Mulder, & Van Lange, 2011) than on mentalizing. Future research will evaluate the relationship of SVO to biological measures of perceived fairness (Aoki, Yomogida, & Matsumoto, 2015).