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Sci Rep. 2017 Jun 12;7(1):3329. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-03615-x.

Reduced preference for social rewards in a novel tablet based task in young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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Institute of Applied Sciences and Intelligent Systems, "Eduardo Caianiello" (ScienceApp) - National Research Council of Italy (CNR), via Torre Bianca, SNC, Istituto Marino, Pad. 4, 98164, Messina, Italy.
Department of Developmental Neuroscience, Stella Maris Scientific Institute, V.le del Tirreno 341, 56018, Calambrone, Pisa, Italy.
Department of Cognitive Sciences, Psychology, Education and Cultural Studies (COSPECS), University of Messina, Via Concezione 6, 98122, Messina, Italy.
Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AL, UK.


Atypical responsivity to social rewards has been observed in young children with or at risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). These observations contributed to the hypothesis of reduced social motivation in ASD. In the current study we develop a novel task to test social reward preference using a tablet computer (iPad), where two differently coloured buttons were associated with a social and a nonsocial rewarding image respectively. 63 young children, aged 14-68 months, with and without a diagnosis of ASD took part in the study. The experimental sessions were also recorded on video, using an in-built webcam on the tablet as well as an external camera. Children with ASD were found to show a reduced relative preference for social rewards, indexed by a lower proportion of touches for the button associated with the social reward image. Greater social preference as measured using the tablet-based task was associated with increased use of social communicative behaviour such as eye contact with the experimenter and social smile in response to the social reward image. These results are consistent with earlier findings from eye-tracking studies, and provide novel empirical insights into atypical social reward responsivity in ASD.

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