Tag: Social Psychology

Social Interaction Difficulties in Autism

Study Challenges Assumptions About Social Interaction Difficulties in Autism

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Autism is characterized in part by an individual’s challenges communicating and interacting socially with others. These difficulties have typically been studied in isolation by focusing on cognitive and behavioral differences in those with autism spectrum disorder, but little work has been done on how exchanges for autistic people unfold in the real world.

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Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas recently turned the spotlight on social interaction in autism by examining it as a two-way street. Their results, published in December in the journal Autism, suggest that successful interactions for autistic adults revolve around partner compatibility and not just the skill set of either person.

“Most studies attempting to understand social disability in autism focus exclusively on individual characteristics,” said Dr. Noah Sasson, an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) and corresponding author of the study. “This presumes that any difficulties in social interaction are driven solely by the autistic person. But how each person influences and is influenced by the other is key to understanding affiliation and social quality.”

The study focused on the so-called “double-empathy problem,” which predicts that two people who are neurologically different and have distinct modes of communication and understanding may have trouble connecting with each other, as commonly occurs in interactions between autistic and non-autistic adults.

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“It’s not just that autistic adults can struggle to infer the thoughts and motivations of typically developing adults, which has been well documented; the reverse is true as well. Non-autistic people struggle to infer what autistic people are thinking,” Sasson said. “Anecdotally, many autistic people often report better quality of social interaction when engaging with other autistic people. We set out to test this empirically.”

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Kerrianne Morrison MS’16, PhD’19, the paper’s lead author, explained that the concept of a social-interaction difficulty being a two-sided, relational problem — and not simply a shortcoming of the autistic person — is only beginning to take hold.

“Autism is such a young field of study. Examining differences depending on the context of social situations rather than dysfunction across all contexts is starting to gain traction in academia,” she said. “We believe this represents a better understanding of how people with autism can thrive in the right contexts.”

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In the study, 125 adults held a five-minute, unstructured “getting-to-know-you” conversation with an unfamiliar person. Sixty-seven of the participants had been diagnosed with autism. Each participant then independently evaluated the quality of the interaction and their first impressions of their partner.

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Autistic adults were not rated as less intelligent, trustworthy or likable by either the autistic or typically developing cohort, and importantly, autistic participants’ interactions with other autistic adults were viewed by them as more favorable than those with typically developing partners.

“While typically developing participants preferred future interaction with other typically developing partners over autistic partners,” Sasson said, “autistic adults actually trended toward the opposite, preferring future interaction with other autistic adults. They also disclosed more about themselves to autistic partners and felt closer to their partners than did typically developing participants.”

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Autistic adults were rated as more awkward and less socially warm than typically developing adults by both autistic and typically developing partners. Some judgments were more favorable than those from Sasson’s previous studies in which people evaluated autistic adults in videos.

“Direct interaction seems to lessen some negative evaluations of autism,” Sasson said. “This aligns with previous work suggesting that direct experience and knowledge of autism can reduce stigma and promote inclusion.”

Typically developing participants also rated the conversational content with autistic and typically developing partners to be of similar quality. This shows that negative evaluations of autistic adults by non-autistic adults may be based more on social presentation differences and not their actual conversations.

“These findings suggest that social interaction difficulties in autism are not an absolute characteristic of the individual,” Sasson said. “Rather, social quality is a relational characteristic that depends upon the fit between the person and the social environment. If autistic people were inherently poor at social interaction, you’d expect an interaction between two autistic people to be even more of a struggle than between an autistic and non-autistic person. But that’s not what we found.”

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Sasson said that he hopes this work shows that studying actual social interaction elicits a deeper understanding than studying individual abilities alone.

“Social disability in autism is context-dependent and emerges more in interactions with typically developing partners,” he said. “This likely reflects a mismatch in cognitive and communication styles that may improve with increased familiarity and acceptance.”

Morrison believes that this research is illuminating a crucial portion of the story for the autistic community.

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“We’re moving beyond the existing research, which has fixated on social abilities in isolated, standardized contexts, and addressing this blind spot of real-world outcomes,” she said. “Particularly in adults, this is the information we need.”

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Other authors affiliated with the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences include Dr. Robert Ackerman, associate professor of psychology; cognition and neuroscience doctoral student Kilee DeBrabander; and psychological sciences doctoral student Desi Jones. Daniel Faso PhD’16 is also an author.

The work was funded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Autism Grant Program and internal funding.

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The Songwriter Is Creative – the Singer, Not So Much

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Study examines how Nashville songwriters co-write with stars

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Country music songwriters must perform a careful dance when they work with famous singers who may be less talented at writing songs but bring the needed star power to attract fans – and, importantly, to get the song recorded in the first place, research suggests. 

A study of 39 successful country-music songwriters found that they use two strategies to navigate creative collaboration with more famous artists. 

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“You have these recording artists who are being required to co-write their own songs, but maybe that’s not their skill,” said Rachel Skaggs, the study’s author and an assistant professor of arts management at The Ohio State University. 

“And then you have songwriters who are brought in to help, and to collaborate, and they have to balance this. There’s the need to make money and make a living, and the need to not have their name on a ‘bad’ song.” 

The study, published in September in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly, identified the two strategies – what Skaggs has termed “bespoke facilitation” and “the manipulation dance” – that songwriters employ to co-write songs with someone who might be a famous performer, but who might not be a great songwriter. 

“There are these strategies for when collaborators don’t have the same idea of what they want to happen, particularly if one collaborator is much higher status – a more famous artist who is important to their label,” Skaggs said. 

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“And if you’re the songwriter in the room with them, you don’t want to undermine that collaborator. You want to identify that they have something to bring to the table, and maybe it’s their fame, but maybe it’s not creativity. So what are the ways around that? How can you can still create something that is good, but not alienate or belittle your partner?” 

Such collaborations, between famous artists and successful songwriters, are becoming more common, Skaggs said, because of economic pressures on the music industry. 

“We often think about creativity as being this very personal, independent thing, like some kind of prodigy in a room by themselves and their creative juices just flowing, but really it’s a socially constructed process,” she said. 

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But that means that highly skilled songwriters might find themselves in a room with an artist who has a great deal of celebrity, but not much skill – or sometimes, interest – in writing a song. For the study, Skaggs interviewed songwriters who are, she said, highly successful in the country-music industry. 

The songwriters’ responses indicated that most either try to take a backseat to the singer – what Skaggs called “bespoke facilitation” – or they come in with the songs mostly written – “the manipulation dance.” 

“Bespoke facilitation is basically where the songwriter might say to the artist, ‘Oh, you’re from Ohio, so we’re going to write a song called ‘Ohio Girl,'” Skaggs said. “It’s really kind of hitting on personal branding.” 

That personal branding is important in this age of social media, Skaggs said, where fans want to feel a connection to the artists they love. 

But it could also mean that the songwriter, in writing a song that caters to the artist’s personal brand, might lose reputation points among his or her songwriting community. 

“It could be seen as fluff, right?” Skaggs said. 

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In the case of the manipulation dance, Skaggs said, songwriters might try to introduce ideas as though they were the more famous artist’s own. In that case, Skaggs said, the songwriters generally pre-write a large portion of the song – one songwriter mentioned writing a chorus and several verses ahead of time – then casually suggest the ideas as if they originated with the artist. 

“They’ll get in the room and maybe it’s hard to corral the artist, and so they’ll say, ‘oh, what was that you wrote a minute ago, artist, that was so good?’ And they’ll introduce something they have already written,” she said. “And – it’s kind of deceptive, right? But it seems to work.” 

That strategy – the “manipulation dance” – seems to be especially effective in cases when a songwriter wants to push the artist toward something with “more artistic merit,” Skaggs said. 

“Maybe that could be a Grammy-nominated song as opposed to only a chart-topper,” she said. 

Skaggs said her findings could also be applicable in other partnerships where collaborators are mismatched in some way – an office environment, for example, or a group project in a school or volunteer organization.

Contact: Rachel Skaggs, skaggs.131@osu.edu

Written by: Laura Arenschield, arenschield.2@osu.edu