Reputation management: evidence for ability but reduced propensity in autism.
Cage E., Pellicano E., Shah P., Bird G.
Previous research has reported that autistic adults do not manage their reputation, purportedly due to problems with theory of mind [Izuma, Matsumoto, Camerer, & Adolphs]. The current study aimed to test alternative explanations for this apparent lack of reputation management. Twenty typical and 19 autistic adults donated to charity and to a person, both when alone and when observed. In an additional manipulation, for half of the participants, the observer was also the recipient of their donations, and participants were told that this observer would subsequently have the opportunity to donate to them (motivation condition). This manipulation was designed to encourage an expectation of a reciprocal "tit-for-tat" strategy in the participant, which may motivate participants to change their behavior to receive more donations. The remaining participants were told that the person watching was just observing the procedure (no motivation condition). Our results replicated Izuma et al.'s finding that autistic adults did not donate more to charity when observed. Yet, in the motivation condition, both typical and autistic adults donated significantly more to the observer when watched, although this effect was significantly attenuated in autistic individuals. Results indicate that, while individuals with autism may have the ability to think about reputation, a reduced expectation of reciprocal behavior from others may reduce the degree to which they engage in reputation management.