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Published October 18, 2011 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Insensitivity to social reputation in autism


People act more prosocially when they know they are watched by others, an everyday observation borne out by studies from behavioral economics, social psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. This effect is thought to be mediated by the incentive to improve one's social reputation, a specific and possibly uniquely human motivation that depends on our ability to represent what other people think of us. Here we tested the hypothesis that social reputation effects are selectively impaired in autism, a developmental disorder characterized in part by impairments in reciprocal social interactions but whose underlying cognitive causes remain elusive. When asked to make real charitable donations in the presence or absence of an observer, matched healthy controls donated significantly more in the observer's presence than absence, replicating prior work. By contrast, people with high-functioning autism were not influenced by the presence of an observer at all in this task. However, both groups performed significantly better on a continuous performance task in the presence of an observer, suggesting intact general social facilitation in autism. The results argue that people with autism lack the ability to take into consideration what others think of them and provide further support for specialized neural systems mediating the effects of social reputation.

Additional Information

© 2011 National Academy of Sciences. Edited by Lee D. Ross, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and approved September 12, 2011 (received for review May 2, 2011). Published online before print October 10, 2011. We thank Brian Cheng and Catherine Holcomb for assistance in recruiting subjects and conducting the experiments, Tim Armstrong and Margaret Lee for coding videotapes, and Drs. Lynn Paul and Dan Kennedy for help with diagnoses and assessments of the participants. This study was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellows (to K.I.), grants from the Simons Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health (to R.A.), and the Tamagawa University Global Centers of Excellence grant from Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan. Author contributions: K.I., K.M., C.F.C., and R.A. designed research; K.I. performed research; K.I. analyzed data; and K.I. and R.A. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1107038108/-/DCSupplemental.

Attached Files

Published - Izuma2011p16153P_Natl_Acad_Sci_Usa.pdf

Supplemental Material - pnas.201107038SI.pdf


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