- Goal-directed action control in children with autism spectrum disorders
- Volume | Issue number
- 18 | 4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Repetitive behavior is a key characteristic of autism spectrum disorders. Our aim was to investigate the hypothesis that this abnormal behavioral repetition results from a tendency to over-rely on habits at the expense of flexible, goal-directed action. Twenty-four children with autism spectrum disorders and 24 age- and gender-matched controls (8-12 years) initially learned to give specific responses to different pictorial stimuli in order to gain valuable outcomes. Subsequently, in the "slips-of-action" test, some of these outcomes were no longer valuable. Children needed to refrain from responding when stimuli were shown that signaled the availability of those outcomes while continuing to respond for the still-valuable outcomes. Reliance on habits should lead to "slips of action" toward no longer valuable outcomes. Therefore, the children’s ability to respond selectively for still-valuable outcomes provides a measure of relative habitual versus goal-directed control. Two additional tasks were included to control for general task characteristics (i.e. working memory and inhibition). Children with autism spectrum disorders learned equally well as controls and were not impaired at flexibly adjusting their behavior to devaluation of the outcomes or stimuli. We found no evidence for a disruption in the balance between goal-directed and habitual behavioral control in children with autism spectrum disorders.
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