Reduced behavioral flexibility in autism spectrum disorders

Anna Maria D'Cruz, Michael E. Ragozzino, Matthew W. Mosconi, Sunil Shrestha, Edwin H. Cook, John A. Sweeney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

81 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Restricted and repetitive behaviors, and a pronounced preference for behavioral and environmental consistency, are distinctive characteristics of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Whether these clinical features of ASD are related to fundamental neuropsychological impairments in behavioral flexibility remains to be clarified. Method: Forty-one individuals with ASD and 37 matched controls performed a probabilistic reversal learning task to assess behavioral flexibility. Participants learned to choose the correct stimulus location from a pair of locations to win points (acquisition). After making the correct choice over multiple trials, the rewarded stimulus location changed without warning (reversal). Feedback was provided on an 80:20 probabilistic schedule, with 80% of correct choices and 20% of incorrect choices randomly reinforced. Results: ASD and control participants performed comparably during acquisition. At reversal, ASD participants initially chose the new correct location as quickly as controls, but then more frequently reverted back to the previously preferred response. The ASD group also more frequently shifted back to the previous response choice immediately following intermittent non-reinforcement of the new correct response. The number of regressive errors was positively correlated with independently ascertained clinical ratings of restricted and repetitive behaviors, but not other core features of ASD. Conclusions: Restricted and repetitive behaviors in ASD are associated with neurocognitive deficits in flexible choice behavior. Preclinical research has established that frontostriatal circuitry supports flexibility on reversal learning tasks. Thus, alterations in this circuitry may contribute to behavioral rigidity in ASD and represent a target for therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-160
Number of pages9
JournalNeuropsychology
Volume27
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2013

Fingerprint

Reversal Learning
Choice Behavior
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Appointments and Schedules
Research
Stimulus
Therapeutics
Rating
Fundamental
Warning
Rigidity
Alteration
Impairment

Keywords

  • Autism
  • Behavioral flexibility
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors
  • Reversal learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

Cite this

D'Cruz, A. M., Ragozzino, M. E., Mosconi, M. W., Shrestha, S., Cook, E. H., & Sweeney, J. A. (2013). Reduced behavioral flexibility in autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychology, 27(2), 152-160. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031721

Reduced behavioral flexibility in autism spectrum disorders. / D'Cruz, Anna Maria; Ragozzino, Michael E.; Mosconi, Matthew W.; Shrestha, Sunil; Cook, Edwin H.; Sweeney, John A.

In: Neuropsychology, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2013, p. 152-160.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

D'Cruz, AM, Ragozzino, ME, Mosconi, MW, Shrestha, S, Cook, EH & Sweeney, JA 2013, 'Reduced behavioral flexibility in autism spectrum disorders', Neuropsychology, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 152-160. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031721
D'Cruz AM, Ragozzino ME, Mosconi MW, Shrestha S, Cook EH, Sweeney JA. Reduced behavioral flexibility in autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychology. 2013;27(2):152-160. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031721
D'Cruz, Anna Maria ; Ragozzino, Michael E. ; Mosconi, Matthew W. ; Shrestha, Sunil ; Cook, Edwin H. ; Sweeney, John A. / Reduced behavioral flexibility in autism spectrum disorders. In: Neuropsychology. 2013 ; Vol. 27, No. 2. pp. 152-160.
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