Social Decision Making in Autistic Adolescents: The Role of Theory of Mind, Executive Functioning and Emotion Regulation

  • Kate Anne WoodcockEmail author
  • Catherine Cheung
  • Daniel González Marx
  • Will Mandy
Original Paper


Social decision making is often challenging for autistic individuals. Twenty autistic adolescents made decisions in the socially interactive context of a one-shot ultimatum game, and performance was compared to a large matched typical reference sample. Theory of mind, executive functioning and emotion regulation were measured via direct assessments, self- and parent report. Relative to the reference sample, autistic adolescents proposed fewer fair offers, and this was associated with poorer theory of mind. Autistic adolescents responded similarly to the reference sample when making decisions about offers proposed to them, however they did not appear to down regulate their negative emotion in response to unfair treatment in the same way. Atypical processes may underpin even apparently typical decisions made by autistic adolescents.


Autism spectrum disorder ASD Social decision making Emotion regulation Executive functioning Theory of mind 



We acknowledge the valuable contributions of the research participants, and the schools in the north of Ireland that supported the work. We also acknowledge the contribution of Emma Catterson, Eavan Hennessey and Ruth Shields in supporting the collection of data from the typical comparison group. The modified paradigm was piloted as a part of a Marie Curie Fellowship awarded to KW under the European Commission’s seventh framework programme (PIOF-GA-2009-252877), and supported with work by Raj Seraya Bhatoa and Eleanor Callaghan.

Author Contributions

KAW, CC and WM conceived and designed the study. All authors contributed to analysis planning, DGM conducted the analyses. All authors contributed to drafting the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Kate Anne Woodcock, Catherine Chung, Daniel González Marx and Will Mandy declares that they no conflicts of interest.

Ethics Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10803_2019_3975_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2143 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Applied Psychology & Institute for Mental HealthUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  2. 2.Division of Psychology and Language SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.School of PsychologyQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK
  4. 4.School of PsychologyUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  5. 5.Faculty of PhysicsUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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