Journal article

Using simple economic games to assess social orienting and prosocial behavior in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder


  • 13.04.2023
Published in:
  • Autism Research. - Wiley. - 2023, vol. 16, no. 6, p. 1199-1209
English Deficits in socio-emotional reciprocity, in prosocial behavior and in developing social relationships are diagnostic criteria of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), usually assessed by self-report or observation. Simple social experiments developed by behavioral economists allow for quantification of ASD-related social behavior. In this study, we used such experiments to compare social-economic decision-making between ASD adolescents and neurotypical controls. Precisely, we analyzed social orienting and prosocial behavior in 17 adolescents with ASD (Asperger syndrome) and 24 matched neurotypical adolescents. We used a two-condition distribution game (possibility of punishment by fellow player versus no such possibility) and an impunity game to examine social orienting (distribution game) and prosocial behavior (both games). Participants with ASD exhibited less social orienting in the distribution game (p = 0.03, d = 0.61). In addition, there was a trend for ASD participants to behave in a more prosocial way than neurotypical participants in the impunity game (p = 0.08, d = 0.60), which was not the case in the no-punishment condition of the distribution game (p = 0.35, r = 0.17). These results demonstrate the potential of simple economic games to capture reduced social orienting in ASD. The unexpected finding of more prosocial behavior in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder than in neurotypical controls adds to the complexity of previously published results. We recommend meta-analytic efforts to determine average effect sizes across studies and elucidate the conditions for prosocial behavior in ASD to occur.

Lay Summary
These results show that simple economic games can be good for measuringreduced social orienting in autism spectrum disorder. Our study also shows thatunder some conditions and on average, autistic people are more altruistic thanpeople without autism. These findings matter as they could help cliniciansimprove their diagnostic methods. They could also help identify resiliency factorslike altruism in autism spectrum disorder.
Faculté des sciences et de médecine
Master en médecine
  • English
Open access status
Persistent URL

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