Research News

UW's Travers examines decision-making skills in individuals with autism

December 03, 2014

UW-Madison’s Brittany Travers is a co-author of a recent paper examining why individuals with autism spectrum disorder struggle with decision making.

The report, which appears in the journal Autism Research, notes that “decision making plays a key role in daily function, but little is known regarding how individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) make decisions.”

Brittany Travers
The abstract continues: “The present studies examined decision making in persons with ASD using the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a computerized card game with the goal of earning money by deciding among decks of cards. To be successful, players need to figure out which decks are associated with winning and which are associated with losing money in the long run. Results of Study 1 indicated that participants with ASD made poorer decisions and showed slower learning of which decks earned more money compared with participants with typical development. Additionally, they made more frequent shifts between decks compared with participants with typical development. In Study 2, undergraduate students with typical development completed the IGT to examine whether instructing them to make frequent shifts between decks early in the IGT would negatively impact their decision making. Results of Study 2 suggested that when participants with typical development were required to make frequent shifts, they exhibited a slower rate of learning and poorer decision making, thus emulating participants with ASD in Study 1."

The combined results of these tests, the abstract notes, "suggest that the way that persons with ASD explore and attend to their environment may be related to poor decision making. Implications for cognitive learning styles are discussed.”

Travers is an assistant professor of occupational therapy with the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology.