Exploring the relationship between fairness and ‘brain types’ in children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder

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Abstract

Background

Existing research typically focuses on only one domain of cognition with regard to fairness—theory of mind or executive function. However, children with High-functioning autism spectrum disorder (HF-ASD) are cognitively impaired in both domains. Moreover, little is known about fairness characteristics in children with HF-ASD in relation to both domains of cognition.

Methods

Thirty children with HF-ASD as well as 39 children with typical development (TD) were evaluated in this study. We investigated the development of children's fairness characteristics as a responder in a mini ultimatum game (UG). The different ‘brain types,’ i.e., with or without HF-ASD, were evaluated using the Empathy Questionnaire-Systemizing Questionnaire (E/SC-Q). Furthermore, we explored the relationship between fairness and brain types using Pearson correlation analyses.

Results

Children in the HF-ASD group were more likely to accept unfair offers than were children in the TD group (χ2= 17.513, p = .025). In the HF-ASD group, the acceptance rate of unfair offers was correlated with the discrepancy score (r = 0.363, p = .048), while there were no significant correlations in the TD group. In HF-ASD group, compared with Type S, acceptance rate of unfair offer was significant higher in Extreme Type S ‘brain type’ (F = 28.584, p < .001). While dividing TD participants by ‘brain type’, there was no significant difference in acceptance rate of unfair offer among five difference ‘brain types’ (F = 1.131, p = .358). Stepwise regression revealed that Extreme Type S positively predicted acceptance of unfair offers (F [1, 68] = 8.695, p < .001).

Discussion

Our findings show that children with HF-ASD were more likely to accept an unfair offer; in particular, the more unbalanced the development of empathy and systemizing was, the more significant the unfairness preference observed. Extreme Type S positively predicted the acceptance of unfair offers by children with HF-ASD.

Registration of clinical trials

World Health Organization class I registered international clinical trial platform, ChiCTR-ROC-17012877.

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