So far, 2016 has been a good year for understanding autism. Several television series have either featured autism, and one, The A Word, made autism central to the story. When it comes to understanding autism, researchers at the Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR), at the University of Bath, announce new findings that provide insight into the way people with autism reason.

Following the opening of its £30m state-of-the-art Psychology building and the new Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR), leading academics at the University of Bath have announced research findings that suggest people with autism prefer ‘deliberative’ reasoning over reasoning with intuition.

The ‘Dual Process Theory of Autism’ applies the theory of two key ways of reasoning to account for the strengths and difficulties associated with autism. Within psychology, it is argued that people typically have both a rapid, intuitive style of reasoning as well as a slower, deliberative style of reasoning. The Dual Process Theory of Autism proposes that people with autism can be characterised as being dominated by slower, deliberative processing.

Research by the University of Bath group led by Dr Mark Brosnan and Dr Chris Ashwin into the profiles of 97 people with higher levels of autism traits or diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), found that these people show a consistent bias towards deliberative reasoning and potentially away from intuition.

Marcus Lewton, a doctoral researcher on the project, said: ‘Deliberative reasoning is a uniquely human attribute, and central to many decision-making situations. For many activities, a domination of deliberative processing is advantageous’.

Autism is characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication, which often occur in a rapidly-changing environment. People typically tend to rely a great deal more on intuitions in situations requiring fast social or emotional responses. Within these social situations, relying on slower, deliberative processing may explain some of the difficulties experienced by people with autism.

Dr. Chris Ashwin, CAAR Deputy Director (Research), said: ‘Whilst rapid, intuitive processing can be advantageous in social situations, it can also be prone to bias and errors. This research suggests that people with autism are best characterised as ‘unbiased’, and less prone to errors in situations where deliberative processing is appropriate’.

This account characterises autism as a bias in the reasoning processes that are in the general population, which may suggest that a great deal of research into intuitive and deliberative processing can be applied to autism research.

Dr Mark Brosnan, CAAR Director, said: ‘We do not yet know whether intuitive processing is absent in people with autism, or intact but being dominated by deliberative processing. The fascinating possibility exists that people with autism are using rapid, intuitive processing in other (non-social) situations’.