Learning with individual-interest outcomes in Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Child and Adolescent Imaging Research (CAIR) Program, Canada; Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, Alberta Children's Hospital, 2888 Shaganappi Trail NW, Calgary, AB, T3B 6A8, Canada; Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Canada; Department of Neuroscience, University of Calgary, Canada. Electronic address: [Email]


Recent work has suggested atypical neural reward responses in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), particularly for social reinforcers. Less is known about neural responses to restricted interests and few studies have investigated response to rewards in a learning context. We investigated neurophysiological differences in reinforcement learning between adolescents with ASD and typically developing (TD) adolescents (27 ASD, 31 TD). FMRI was acquired during a learning task in which participants chose one of two doors to reveal an image outcome. Doors differed in their probability of showing liked and not-liked images, which were individualized for each participant. Participants chose the door paired with liked images, but not the door paired with not-liked images, significantly above chance and choice allocation did not differ between groups. Interestingly, participants with ASD made choices less consistent with their initial door preferences. We found a neural prediction-error response at the time of outcome in the ventromedial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices that did not differ between groups. Together, behavioural and neural findings suggest that learning with individual interest outcomes is not different between individuals with and without ASD, adding to our understanding of motivational aspects of ASD.