Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is diagnosed on the basis of communicative impairments observed in everyday social interactions. Although individuals with ASD show surprising proficiency on several lab tests of social cognition, face-to-face interaction proves problematic and has been associated with biases in processing biological and multimodal linguistic cues. Here, we provide empirical evidence characterizing a special interactional challenge raised by interpersonal communication in people with ASD, which persists even during interactions stripped of those biases. During online, experimentally-controlled interactions, both adults with ASD (N=22) and neurotypical adults (N=30) generated intelligible communicative behaviors toward their partners. Both groups showed a similar propensity for modifying their behavior after misunderstandings, indicating matched social motivation and cognitive flexibility. Yet, communicative success was lower when autistic individuals interacted with other individuals, both with and without ASD, to solve communicative problems that afforded multiple solutions. Neurotypical pairs navigated through those epochs of communicative ambiguity by taking recent signals into account, and aligned their conceptualizations of novel communicative behaviors. In contrast, pairs with one or more ASD members were less likely to produce communicative behaviors informed by their pair-specific history of interaction and mutual understanding. The precise characterization of the cognitive source of these communicative misalignments provides novel boundaries to the general notion that ASD is linked to altered mentalizing abilities. Furthermore, the findings illustrate the cognitive and clinical importance of considering human communication as a solution to a conceptual alignment challenge, and how ineffective the human communicative system is without this special interactional ingredient.

Read the manuscript at: https://psyarxiv.com/7nbms/

Wadge, H., Brewer, R., Bird, G., Toni, I., & Stolk, A. (2019). Communicative Misalignment in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Cortex.

Presented at the Society for Neuroscience Conference, San Diego CA, 3-7 November 2018. 

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