Where do people on the autistic spectrum stand in relation to the issue of attacking Syria? We don’t know and are unlikely to do so, but it is not true to say that we have no way of knowing. We do, and I would bet that most would be overwhelmingly against—or at least in favor of taking a while to make up their minds. A new study using the jumping to conclusions (JTC) bead test explains why.

In a previous post I reported experiments using the JTC test that confirmed the diametric model of cognition on the psychotic side: a tendency to jump to conclusions correlated positively with measures of mentalism and symptoms of psychosis. Now, for the first time, the researchers have repeated the experiment with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) subjects. They report that

Results showed the ASD group required more beads to be drawn before making a decision compared to controls. This reveals a more circumspect reasoning bias in ASD, where those with ASD gathered more data before a decision was made. This represents the opposite pattern to the jumping-to-conclusions reasoning bias seen in psychosis, which confirms predictions from the Autism-Psychosis Model.

As the authors also point out,

Dual-process accounts of human cognition suggest two distinct types of reasoning and decision-making; a fast ‘intuition’ that is independent of working memory and cognitive ability and a slower analytic-logical ‘deliberation’ that is heavily dependent on working memory and related to individual differences in cognitive ability (…). The greater reliance on analytic and logical processing in ASD may … underlie the difficulties in making efficient and quick decisions, which may be particularly important in the social world.

They go on to observe that from this perspective, the enhanced logical and rational reasoning style in ASD serves to gather more information than usual in order to make more informed decision-making. This may be beneficial in non-social situations where what I would call a more mechanistic approach

might help to weigh the evidence in order to make an informed decision, such as those commonly seen in occupations like science and engineering. This reasoning bias, however, might not always be useful in social situations, where quicker intuitive reasoning might help make efficient decisions and judgments. It may be the application of this circumspect reasoning to social-emotional contexts that characterises the deficits associated with ASD.

Indeed, and it would also characterize a more circumspect approach to the Syrian crisis, but would that be evidence of a deficit?

However that may be, the new study confirms the prediction of the diametric model and adds another finding to the increasingly long list of evidence in its favor. As one of its authors, I have to admit to sometimes feeling frustrated that it is taking so long for people to jump to the obvious conclusion that this is indeed psychiatry’s “grandest working theory since Freud. But, as these researchers point out in my quotation above, circumspection is the epitome of science, even if it is an impediment in waging wars!

(With thanks to Bernard Crespi.)

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