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Reward devaluation in autistic and adolescents with complex needs: a feasibility study

Lambrechts, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-0497-1475, Cook, J., Ludvig, E. A. , Alonso, E. ORCID: 0000-0002-3306-695X, Anns, S., Taylor, M. & Gaigg, S. B. ORCID: 0000-0003-2644-7145 (2020). Reward devaluation in autistic and adolescents with complex needs: a feasibility study. Autism Research, 13(11), pp. 1915-1928. doi: 10.1002/aur.2388


Rewards act as a motivator for positive behaviour and learning. Although compounding evidence indicates that reward processing operates differently in autistic individuals who do not have co-occurring learning disabilities, little is known about individuals who have such difficulties or other complex needs. This study aimed first to assess the feasibility of using an adapted reward devaluation paradigm to examine basic reward processes in this underrepresented population, and second to investigate whether autistic children and adolescents with complex needs would show dynamic behavioural changes in response to changes in the motivational value of a reward. 27 autistic children and adolescents with complex needs and 20 typically-developing 5-year-old children took part in the study. Participants were presented with two visual cues on a touchscreen laptop which triggered the delivery of a video, music or physical reward. One of the rewards was then presented in abundance to decrease its motivational value. Participants showed decreased interest in the video and music rewards after devaluation. The experimental setup was found to be suitable to test individuals with complex needs, although recommendations are made for the use of physical rewards. The results suggest that autistic participants with complex needs demonstrate goal-directed behaviour and that it is feasible to develop experimental paradigms that can shed important light on learning processes that are fundamental to many education and intervention strategies for this population.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2020 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: autism, complex needs, intellectual disability, reward processing, devaluation
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
SWORD Depositor:
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