Social affiliation motives modulate spontaneous learning in Williams syndrome but not in autism Academic Article uri icon


  • Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with Williams syndrome (WS) have difficulties with learning, though the nature of these remains unclear.In this study, we used novel eye-tracking and behavioral paradigms to measure how 36 preschoolers with ASD and 21 age- and IQ-matched peers with WS attend to and learn novel behaviors (1) from the outcomes of their own actions (non-social learning), (2) through imitation of others' actions (social learning), and across situations in which imitative learning served either an instrumental function or fulfilled social affiliation motives.The two groups demonstrated similar abilities to learn from the consequences of their own actions and to imitate new actions that were instrumental to the achievement of a tangible goal. Children with WS, unlike those with ASD, increased their attention and imitative learning performance when the model acted in a socially engaging manner.Learning abnormalities in ASD appear to be linked to the social rather than instrumental dimensions of learning.

publication date

  • 2016