People with autism are often associated with having difficulty making everyday decisions. However, a new study has shown that adults with autism spectrum conditions actually make more consistent and rational choices in higher-level decision-making tasks. This means they were less susceptible to cognitive biases and could even be less fooled by deceptive advertising.
Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are a band of conditions characterized by difficulties with social interaction, poor communication, and repetitive behavior. Although it varies hugely between people, many people with ASC are reported to be extremely high-functioning and said to "see the world differently," so to speak. This new research helps to shed some light on these differences.
"People with autism are thought to focus more on detail and less on the bigger picture – this is often found in more perceptual studies, for instance by showing that people with autism are less susceptible to some visual illusions," study author George Farmer of the University of Cambridge said in a statement. "We wanted to know if this tendency would apply to higher-level decision-making tasks."
The new study is published in the journal Psychological Science. They gathered 90 individuals diagnosed with some form of ASC, mainly autism and Asperger's Syndrome, and 212 neurotypical adults in an online decision-making task.
In one of the challenges, they had to decide which product they believed was best: One of three USB drives that varied according to their capacity and their lifespan. Product A has a capacity of 32 GB and a lifespan of 20 months, Product B had a capacity of 16 GB but a longer lifespan of 36 months, and Product C was a total decoy, with a capacity of 28 GB and lifespan of 16 months.
Product C is pretty obviously the worse option, as both its capacity and lifespan are both less than Product A. However, that does not necessarily mean A is better than B. In these kinds of scenarios, the researchers could change the neurotypical participants by playing around with the decoy, making it deceive and mislead their choices. However, the people with ASC made consistent choices and were not nearly as “controllable”.
This, the researchers argue, is evidence of more rational and consistent high-level decision making.
"People with autism are indeed more consistent in their choices than the neurotypical population. From an economic perspective, this suggests that people with autism are more rational and less likely to be influenced by the way choices are presented," said Farmer.
"These findings suggest that people with autism might be less susceptible to having their choices biased by the way information is presented to them –for instance, via marketing tricks when choosing between consumer products.”