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URMC / Labs / Bennetto Lab / Projects / Self-Regulation and Social Motivation in ASD


Self-Regulation and Social Motivation in ASD

Dissertation Project: Jessica Keith, MA

Mentor: Loisa Bennetto, PhD

child with VR goggles

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often experience difficulties in social interactions, which may partially arise from lower levels of social motivation. For example, past research has found that individuals with ASD often pay less attention to social stimuli and find social stimuli less rewarding than their neurotypical peers. However, a separate line of research has shown that individuals with ASD show a greater stress response to social stimuli (e.g., social noise, eye gaze) and that this increased stress may be especially challenging, given that individuals with ASD often have difficulty regulating their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses. This suggests that we may need to expand our current theories on social motivation differences in ASD. Better understanding how social motivation differences arise in children with ASD will inform more appropriate and effective treatments and improve the experiences of individuals with ASD in social interactions.

This project will take a novel approach to understanding social motivation in ASD by investigating how stress responses to social stimuli and difficulties self-regulating in social environments influence social motivation in children with ASD. Specifically, this project will examine cognitive (executive functions) and autonomic (electrodermal activity, heart rate variability) regulation responses in the presence of social background noise. This project will then measure autonomic responses while children experience a virtual playdate via immersive film technology (virtual reality). Finally, we will examine how indices of cognitive and autonomic self-regulation across these tasks relate to their social motivation.

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