Mimetic desire (MD), the spontaneous propensity to pursue goals that others pursue, is a case of social influence that is believed to shape preferences. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined by both atypical interests and altered social interaction. We investigated whether MD is lower in adults with ASD compared to typically developed adults and whether MD correlates with social anhedonia and social judgment, two aspects of atypical social functioning in autism. Contrary to our hypotheses, MD was similarly present in both ASD and control groups. Anhedonia and social judgment differed between the ASD and control groups but did not correlate with MD. These results extend previous findings by suggesting that basic mechanisms of social influence are preserved in autism. The finding of intact MD in ASD stands against the intuitive idea that atypical interests stem from reduced social influence and indirectly favors the possibility that special interests might be selected for their intrinsic properties.
Keywords: Autism; Brain valuation system; Mimetic desire; Mirror neuron system; Restricted interests; Social cognition; Social influence; Social motivation.