Chapter

Discrimination Learning Process in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Phil Reed

in Associative Learning and Conditioning Theory

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199735969
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894529 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199735969.003.0055
Discrimination Learning Process in Autism Spectrum Disorders

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The chapter reviews evidence that suggests that there is a deficit in discrimination learning in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), for both simple and conditional discriminations. These deficits are linked to several of the core problems seen in many individuals with ASD, and they are discussed with reference to the concept of overselectivity. A new conceptualization of discrimination learning for those with ASD, based on a comparator theory, is postulated; this theory includes the notion that the comparator is sensitive to relative, rather than absolute, differences in stimulus strength, and that the comparator in individuals with ASD is hypersensitive to such differences. Several predictions derived from this model are shown to be substantiated, including postconditioning revaluation effects; enhanced overselectivity with subasymptotic learning; and greater sensitivity to slight differences between stimuli in ASD. The implications of this application of learning theory to interventions for overselectivity in an ASD population are discussed.

Keywords: autism; discrimination learning; comparator theory

Chapter.  12455 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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