People with autism are more likely to follow their head rather than heart, making logical decisions without being influenced by ‘gut feelings’, scientists, including one of Indian origin, have found.
Research has shown that emotional awareness is impaired in people with alexithymia, otherwise known as ’emotional blindness’.
“Our study adds to evidence of atypical psychological processes in autism, but also highlights that the condition may carry benefits in situations where it may be useful to ‘follow your head and not your heart’,” said Punit Shah from King’s College London in the UK.
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“It is often thought that people with autism are ‘good with numbers’ and therefore more rational, but this theory is not well understood,” he said.
As ’emotional blindness’ is more common in people with autism, this could mean autistic individuals are less susceptible to the emotionally driven Framing Effect -according to which decisions are based on the way choices are framed.
For example, when given 70 pounds in a gambling scenario, people are more likely to gamble their money if they think they are going to ‘Lose 50 pounds’ than if they stand to ‘Keep 20 pounds’, even though both options are numerically equivalent.
Participants were given a computerised task to measure their susceptibility to the Framing Effect.
They were repeatedly given the opportunity to gamble in situations where they could either ‘lose’ or ‘gain’ from an initial pot of money.
Participants were also asked to close their eyes and count their heartbeats in order to measure how well they perceived their internal sensations. Finally, emotional awareness was measured using a questionnaire.
Although people with autism chose to gamble just as often as those in the control group, there was little difference between gambling when they were going to lose or gain money.
Among people who did not have autism, those most ‘in touch’ with their internal sensations, and who also had good emotional awareness, were most susceptible to the Framing Effect.
In contrast, susceptibility to the Framing Effect was less pronounced in people with autism because it was not driven by their perception of internal sensations or emotional awareness.
This indicates that the two groups were using different strategies when making their decisions – people without autism were using their intuition, emotion and ‘following their heart’, while those with autism used a more rule-based rational strategy, researchers said.
“Our research helps to explain that people with autism make more logical decisions because they are not as easily influenced by their internal sensations or ‘gut-feelings’,” Shah said.
The study was published in the journal Molecular Autism.