Analyzing the effects of high autistic traits on learning: An event-related potential approach




Parsons, Ellis M.

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It has been established that certain learning differences exist in autistic people in contrast to their neurotypical counterparts in the context of reinforcement learning, decision-making, and working memory as quantified by electroencephalography (EEG) derived event-related potentials (ERPs). However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is the lack of consensus on this matter, which may be attributable to working memory and other executive functioning (EF) differences in autistic people that contribute to differential learning abilities and thus task performance. The present study aimed to answer the question of how and to what extent these learning differences, as quantified by the reward positivity and P300, may appear in a high autistic traits population in contrast to the low autistic traits control by employing the use of both quantitative and qualitative research measures in a concentrated effort to include the perspectives of autistic people. More specifically, it was hypothesized that both a smaller reward positivity and a larger P300 would be found in high autistic traits participants. Furthermore, it was anticipated that the degree of autistic traits expressed by participants as measured by the Autism Quotient (AQ) would be negatively correlated with the reward positivity, and positively correlated with the P300. Though these results were not statistically significant and both groups completed tasks with the same degree of accuracy, it was found that high autistic traits participants perceived their task performance to be significantly worse than those with low autistic traits. These findings shed light on certain methodological considerations that are discussed at length.