Intact predictive motor sequence learning in autism spectrum disorder

A.J. Rybicki, J.M. Galea, B.A. Schuster, C. Hiles, C. Fabian, J.L. Cook

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Abstract

Atypical motor learning has been suggested to underpin the development of motoric challenges (e.g., handwriting difficulties) in autism. Bayesian accounts of autistic cognition propose a mechanistic explanation for differences in the learning process in autism. Specifically, that autistic individuals overweight incoming, at the expense of prior, information and are thus less likely to (a) build stable expectations of upcoming events and (b) react to statistically surprising events. Although Bayesian accounts have been suggested to explain differences in learning across a range of domains, to date, such accounts have not been extended to motor learning. 28 autistic and 35 non-autistic controls (IQ > 70) completed a computerised task in which they learned sequences of actions. On occasional “surprising” trials, an expected action had to be replaced with an unexpected action. Sequence learning was indexed as the reaction time difference between blocks which featured a predictable sequence and those that did not. Surprise-related slowing was indexed as the reaction time difference between surprising and unsurprising trials. No differences in sequence-learning or surprise-related slowing were observed between the groups. Bayesian statistics provided anecdotal to moderate evidence to support the conclusion that sequence learning and surprise-related slowing were comparable between the two groups. We conclude that individuals with autism do not show atypicalities in response to surprising events in the context of motor sequence-learning. These data demand careful consideration of the way in which Bayesian accounts of autism can (and cannot) be extended to the domain of motor learning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20693
JournalScientific Reports
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2021

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