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Other-regarding preferences and the decision behaviour of autistic people in the Ultimatum Game

Acosta Ortiz, A.M. (2018). Other-regarding preferences and the decision behaviour of autistic people in the Ultimatum Game. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


When humans interact with one another, the decisions they make often appear to be irrational in a purely economic sense. People are willing to sacrifice resources in order to affect positive outcomes for others and they often forgo opportunities to maximise benefits for themselves in order to avoid disadvantaging others. Explanations for such phenomena remain contested. The current thesis seeks to shed light on some of the factors that contribute to social-decision making by comparing decision making in typically developing individuals and individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – a condition characterised by difficulties in many of the domains that are suspected to play a role in guiding social-decision behaviour. In four experiments, variants of a paradigm known as the Ultimatum Game were implemented, which requires individuals to decide whether or not to accept or reject fair or unfair monetary offers. In Experiment 1, a one-shot UG was implemented in which participants provided one response as proposer and one as responder. In experiment 2, as responders, participants were asked to decide over intentionally vs randomly made unfair offers while skin conductance response was measured. In experiment 3, a cognitive manipulation was implemented, and participants were asked to respond with and without time pressure to fair and unfair offers made by human proposers. Finally, in experiment 4 participants played as proposers and responders a multi trial Mini UG. Here, participants decide over an unfair offer which is presented four times along with an alternative offer that varies in levels of fairness each time. In addition, across all experiments a number of traits, that are thought to play a role in regulating decision behaviour in this scenario were assessed through self-report and performance measures, including theory of mind, inhibition, empathising and systemising. The results from the Ultimatum Game task showed that there are no substantial behavioural differences between ASD and control participants (TD). However, in two of the experiments, differences emerged which suggested that the two groups differed in the cognitive processes recruited to respond to levels of fairness. Specifically, in experiment 2 ASD participants were less influenced by whether or not unfair offers were proposed by a human or computer counterpart and in experiment 3 rejection rates were more strongly associated with a measure of theory of mind than in the TD group. These results are discussed in the framework of cognitive theories of ASD and models of economic exchange suggesting that inequity aversion, e.g. Cultural norms, and fairness reciprocity are not stable preferences but differently motivate decision behaviour depending on the context. Further research needs to be undertaken to identify how executive control and dual theories of moral judgements affect decision behaviour in repeated interactions.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
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