Preserved reward outcome processing in ASD as revealed by event-related potentials

Academic Article


  • Background Problems with reward system function have been posited as a primary difficulty in autism spectrum disorders. The current study examined an electrophysiological marker of feedback monitoring, the feedback-related negativity (FRN), during a monetary reward task. The study advanced prior understanding by focusing exclusively on a developmental sample, applying rigorous diagnostic characterization and introducing an experimental paradigm providing more subtly different feedback valence (reward versus non-reward instead of reward versus loss). Methods Twenty-six children with autism spectrum disorder and 28 typically developing peers matched on age and full-scale IQ played a guessing game resulting in monetary gain ("win") or neutral outcome ("draw"). ERP components marking early visual processing (N1, P2) and feedback appraisal (FRN) were contrasted between groups in each condition, and their relationship to behavioral measures of social function and dysfunction, social anxiety, and autism symptomatology were explored. Results FRN was observed on draw trials relative to win trials. Consistent with prior research, children with ASD exhibited a FRN to suboptimal outcomes that was comparable to typical peers. ERP parameters were unrelated to behavioral measures. Conclusions Results of the current study indicate typical patterns of feedback monitoring in the context of monetary reward in ASD. The study extends prior findings of normative feedback monitoring to a sample composed exclusively of children and demonstrates that, as in typical development, individuals with autism exhibit a FRN to suboptimal outcomes, irrespective of neutral or negative valence. Results do not support a pervasive problem with reward system function in ASD, instead suggesting any dysfunction lies in more specific domains, such as social perception, or in response to particular feedback-monitoring contexts, such as selfevaluation of one's errors. © 2012 McPartland et al.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • McPartland JC; Crowley MJ; Perszyk DR; Mukerji CE; Naples AJ; Wu J; Mayes LC
  • Volume

  • 4
  • Issue

  • 1