Autism Study: Insensitivity to Social Reputation in Autistic Individuals



People act more prosocially when they know they are watched by others, an everyday observation borne out by studies from behavioral economics, social psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. This effect is thought to be mediated by the incentive to improve one’s social reputation, a specific and possibly uniquely human motivation that depends on our ability to represent what other people think of us. Here we tested the hypothesis that social reputation effects are selectively impaired in autism, a developmental disorder characterized in part by impairments in reciprocal social interactions but whose underlying cognitive causes remain elusive. When asked to make real charitable donations in the presence or absence of an observer, matched healthy controls donated significantly more in the observer’s presence than absence, replicating prior work. By contrast, people with high-functioning autism were not influenced by the presence of an observer at all in this task. However, both groups performed significantly better on a continuous performance task in the presence of an observer, suggesting intact general social facilitation in autism. The results argue that people with autism lack the ability to take into consideration what others think of them and provide further support for specialized neural systems mediating the effects of social reputation.


People are more inclined to make a donation to charity when someone is watching them… and less likely to do so when not being watched. In the case of persons with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism, this was not the case. They remained unaffected when a person did watch or did not watch.

This indicates a lack of need or desire for social reputation… or are unable to take into consideration what others will think of them.

My Opinion

This is simply my opinion of the story, stop reading if you do not want opinions and are happy just having read the details of the original study itself.

This seems quite interesting to me because other studies, as well as general observation, indicates that depression, anxiety and fear are often quite common in those with Autism, as they tend to feel, not just a disconnect, but a general rejection from society. This feeling of being an “outcast” results in being teased, bullied and otherwise put down/insulted.

The resulting depression, anxiety and fear must surely be attributed to a very strong consideration of what others think of them.

Still though, a general “feeling” of how others think of you versus a need to build one’s own reputation are two entirely different things.

While much of what this study makes perfect sense, being very easily witnessed in many individuals with Autism, I still can’t help but think that this over generalization and lack of deeper study only serves to confuse matters more for those who try to explain Autism to the uninformed.

It is my opinion, and just my opinion, that those with Autism very much do consider what others think of them, they just may not fully understand what it is that others are thinking nor why… making it so that they wouldn’t fully understand and/or care if someone else saw them donate to charity.


“Autism Study of the Month”
The purpose of the Autism Study of the Month series is to provide unpolluted (by the media) information about the studies released at least once a month in the study of possible Autism causes or risks.
You will find links to the actual studies, get to read the “abstract” of the study and, when possible, get the PR release from the source.
When it comes to science, let’s leave the media out of it.

Stuart Duncan on FacebookStuart Duncan on TwitterStuart Duncan on Youtube
Stuart Duncan
I am the father of 2 great boys, Cameron (Autistic) and Tyler, his younger brother. Founder of Autcraft.
Stuart Duncan

Stuart Duncan

I am the father of 2 great boys, Cameron (Autistic) and Tyler, his younger brother. Founder of Autcraft.

0 thoughts on “Autism Study: Insensitivity to Social Reputation in Autistic Individuals

  • November 11, 2011 at 2:41 am

    There is no doubt that people act differently when they feel
    that are watching from others. However, the persons who have autism that do not
    care about people judgment on them. For that I agree with you about this term.     

  • November 10, 2011 at 6:35 am

    People can feel hurt about being bullied and rejected without understanding why they are a target for that. I think the point is not that they don’t care at all about what people think of them, I think that they just don’t understand that some of their behaviors are not what other people would do, and people can be cruel when someone is different.
    For example, someone I personally know took her son who is on the spectrum to a school function. When music started playing, he danced like crazy even though no one else was and other kids were pointing and laughing. At the the time he was just having fun doing what he wanted to do and he obviously didn’t feel embarrassed or understand why most people would be in that situation. So if people were to act different towards him or laugh later, he wouldn’t understand why.

  • November 10, 2011 at 12:24 am

    I like to give to charity. I like to give a LOT to charity…often more than is, say, socially “acceptable” or “polite”. Therefore, I either prefer others not know what I give or I don’t give in the presence of others. If I have it, and your cause is reputable, my money is yours – you need it more than I do.

  • November 9, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    “depression, anxiety and fear are often quite common in those with
    Autism, as they tend to feel, not just a disconnect, but a general
    rejection from society. The resulting depression, anxiety and fear must surely be attributed to a
    very strong consideration of what others think of them.”

    I don’t think that means that they are worried about what other people think of them. Maybe that kind of anxiety never crosses their minds. I can see where wanting friends and having a connection when you cannot attain one, no matter how hard you try, could be depressing. As if you see everyone else laughing and playing on a playground yet you are stuck on the bench alone. Are you worried about them caring that you are wearing red shorts instead of blue shorts? Are you worried that they might not like how you act? No, you’re worried because you can’t play and you want to. You want to laugh with them, you want to feel emotions like they do, you want to have the same experience they do. But you can’t enjoy it in the same way that you see others enjoying it because you’re stuck on the bench. That’s rough and I understand why it would be so difficult to be autistic.

  • November 9, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Autism sucks because some jumped on the bandwagon to receive some sort of charitable aid in school or for money. Parents like this name because they want to separate their children from the masses as some sort of prodigy or genius.

    What ever happened to “nerd”?

  • November 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    In my opinion, the study is incomplete.  Might it also be possible that those with high-functioning Autism are more likely to give when NOBODY is watching?  I know of one such individual who, almost obsessively, wants their giving to be done in secret and if there is a chance anybody is watching, they will be far less likely to give.  Even at church, this person will remove cash from their wallet and discreetly slip bills inside a folded $1 so that if someone DOES see, it looks like much less than it really is.  I’d be curious to see if this is a unique phenomenon or if it is common to those who have Autism.  Perhaps, it is possible that the giving methodology can be a deliberate attempt for it NOT to affect how others see them for the simple reason that giving should have nothing to do with that.  …but that might just be wild speculation on my part.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.