Autistic people make more rational decisions

October 16th, 2008 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 16 (IANS) People with autism-related disorders are less likely to make irrational decisions and are less influenced by gut instincts, according to the latest research.Decision-making is a complex process, involving both intuition and analysis: analysis involves computation and more “rational” thought, but is slower; intuition, by contrast, is much faster, but less accurate, relying on heuristics, or “gut instincts”.

Previous studies have shown that our response to a problem depends on how the problem is posed - the so called “framing effect”.

A surgeon who tells a patient that there is an 80 percent chance of surviving an operation is more likely to gain consent than one who tells the patient there is a 20 percent chance of dying, even though statistically these mean the same thing.

Researchers with Ray Dolan’s group at the UCL (University College London) have used the framing effect to study decision-making in people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

According to the National Autistic Society, these disorders affect up to one in a 100 people in Britain. They range from mild conditions, such as Asperger syndrome, through to highly disabling conditions, such as Rett syndrome.

Symptoms - which vary widely in severity - include language problems, poor social interaction and rigid patterns of behaviour and thinking, according to an UCL release. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Neuroscience.

Participants in the study performed a task involving deciding whether or not to gamble with a sum of money. For example, they would be given 50 pounds and be presented with two options: option A was to keep 20 pounds; option B was to gamble, with a 40 percent chance of keeping the full 50 pounds and a 60 percent chance of losing everything. This version was known as the “gain frame”.

At other times, the participants would be presented with the “loss frame”, the only difference being that option A was phrased in terms of losing money. In other words, when given 50 pounds, option A was to lose 30 pounds of their initial amount; option B was the same in both frames.

Despite option A being essentially the same in both gain and loss frames, the researchers found that the “control” participants - those without ASD - were more likely to gamble if the first option was to “lose” rather than “keep” money.

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