12 Apr


Research on cognitive and perceptual tasks had shown that people with autism generally seem to be less sensitive to “contextual stimuli than neuro-typical individuals”.

A research study examined whether this reduced sensitivity to contextual stimuli led to better making rational decisions, consistency in making choices, and less vulnerability to external influences such as marketing tricks.

Study participants were 90 adults with autism and 212 adults without autism. They were asked to choose 10 pairs of products, with the products in each pair differing on two contextual dimensions – either capacity or longevity.

One condition was characterized by a lower capacity (16 gigabytes) but a longer lifespan (36 months); the other condition was characterized by a higher capacity (32 gigabytes) and a shorter lifespan (20 months). Persons in either condition were presented with a decoy item – a third choice that was a worse condition (28 gigabytes and a lifespan of 16 months) than the other two conditions. A consistent, rational decision consisted of the participants’ making the same choice twice, with or without the decoy. Less rational and more inconsistent choices would involve switching in favor of the decoy.

The study showed that the adults with autism made more consistent choices, with or without the decoy; that is, they switched fewer times than the participants without autism. This means that the autistic adults were better at making judgments independently of its context.

Conclusion: Persons with autism appear to be less susceptible to having their choices biased by the way information is presented to them. Extending this ability to making choices regarding consumer products, the finding suggests that persons with autism are less vulnerable to marketing tricks.

Reference: George D. Farmer, Simon Baron-Cohen, William J Skylark. People with Autism Spectrum Conditions Make More Consistent Decisions. Psychological Science, Vol 28, Issue 8, 2017.

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