Reward-Based Decision Making and Electrodermal Responding by Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders during a Gambling Task


  • Grant sponsors: American Psychological Association Dissertation Award (S.F.), International Society of Autism Research Dissertation Award (S.F.), Robert C. Bolles Graduate Fellowship (S.F.), and Cure Autism Now Young Investigator Award (M.M.).


In this study, we explore reward-based decision making and electrodermal responding (EDR) among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during a children's gambling task. In addition, we examine whether individual behavioral and EDR responses predict social communication, repetitive symptoms, parent reports of executive function, and behavioral challenges. The ability to form advantageous strategies for long-term gain is of interest for children with ASD, who exhibit both difficulty with executive function and atypical responses to reward. Twenty-one children ages 6–7 years with ASD and no intellectual disability, and 21 age- and IQ-matched typically developing children participated. Both groups exhibited a similar pattern of gambling selections, but children with ASD showed less knowledge of the reward contingencies of the decks after playing. In addition, although EDR was similar between groups in anticipation of selections, children with ASD exhibited greater EDR during feedback about rewards as the task progressed. Children with ASD who exhibited the greatest increases in EDR were more likely to exhibit repetitive symptoms, particularly rituals and the need for sameness, as well as internalizing behaviors and reduced executive function in other settings. Autism Res 2013, 6: 494–505. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.