In which regards are autistics more rational?

Many bloggers are citing a recent Scientific American piece, one part of which covers how autistics come closer to satisfying some canons of economic rationality.  Since I discuss the underlying research in Create Your Own Economy, I should point out that the SA article doesn't quite get it right.  They serve up:

One group that does not value perceived losses differently than gains are individuals with autism…

I would sooner describe the underlying research as showing that framing effects are weaker (NB: not absent) for autistics.  That is, for the autistics it matters less whether a given change in endowment is described as a gain or a loss, relative to varying frames.  I read the SA account ("when balancing gains and losses") as conflating framing and endowment effects; in any case the exposition is not clear.

SA writes:

…this seeming rationality may itself denote abnormal behavior…

An alternative would have been: "The autistics are in this way more rational."

One underexplored question is whether most people distrust those who are not irrational in particular, commonly realized ways.  Even the researchers on the original piece considers the superior performance of autistics on the test to be a sign of their processing "failures."

Another part of the piece concerns the skin conductance responses; there is preliminary evidence that autistics approached the framed choices in a less emotional manner, at least by that one measure.  

Create Your Own Economy considers a number of possible overlaps between economics and autism, including Vernon Smith's claim that Adam Smith was himself on the autism spectrum.  It also considers other ways in which autistics are likely to be more rational, such as being less likely to encode false memories and less likely to resort to excessive use of narrative to organize their memories and explanations.


Comments for this post are closed