How Autism Spectrum Disorder Traits Relate to Curiosity-Driven Learning: A Population Study

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Curiosity-driven learning is a type of information-seeking behaviour that is intrinsically motivated, which is proposed to be structured through maximising learning progress. These processes have not yet been extensively studied in relation to autistic traits, although previous work has found differences in explorative behaviour between autistic and neurotypical children. To test how autistic traits relate to curiosity-driven learning, we formulated three hypotheses: autistic people find small amounts of learning progress rewarding, they prefer stable learning progress, or they prefer prediction error minimisation over learning progress maximisation. To test our hypotheses, we used a task in which participants could explore and learn about behaviour of different cartoon animals and measured autistic traits with the Adult Social Behaviour Questionnaire (ASBQ). We used a general linear model to examine which factors determined when a participant would switch to another animal and how autistic traits related to this behaviour. We also performed exploratory analyses based on task performance and ASBQ total scores and subscales to determine how autistic traits related to information- processing in general. Although we found that people with a low insistence on sameness score appear to focus on maximising learning progress, while those with a high insistence on sameness score do not, we found no evidence in favour of our hypotheses. Our exploratory analyses showed that there were differences related to ASBQ scores in terms of how they processed information and acted during the task and how the expression of these differences related to ASBQ score profiles. Keywords: curiosity, curiosity-driven learning, information-processing, autism spectrum disorder, autistic traits, population study
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