Atypical brain responses to reward cues in autism as revealed by event-related potentials

J Autism Dev Disord. 2011 Nov;41(11):1523-33. doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1177-1.


Social motivation deficit theories suggest that children with autism do not properly anticipate and appreciate the pleasure of social stimuli. In this study, we investigated event-related brain potentials evoked by cues that triggered social versus monetary reward anticipation in children with autism. Children with autism showed attenuated P3 activity in response to cues associated with a timely reaction to obtain a reward, irrespective of reward type. We attribute this atypical P3 activity in response to reward cues as reflective of diminished motivated attention to reward signals, a possible contributor to reduced social motivation in autism. Thus, our findings suggest a general reward processing deficit rather than a specific social reward dysfunction in autism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Cues*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Reward*
  • Social Perception