ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (9): 1301-1316.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01301

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Cooperation in Children with High-functioning Autism

LI Jing; ZHU Liqi   

  1. (Key laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China)
  • Received:2013-06-07 Published:2014-09-25 Online:2014-09-25
  • Contact: ZHU Liqi, E-mail:


The term autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a group of neurobiological disorders, which are diagnoses when there are deficits in social functioning, communication and language, and children demonstrate restricted/ repetitive behaviors and/or interests. High functioning autism (HFA) refers to individuals with ASD whose developmental age is close to their chronological age or whose IQ is greater than or equal to 70. One core characteristic of children with ASD is deficits in social functioning. These include impairments in imitation, joint attention, shared attention, and mind reading. However, not all social behavior is delayed. Cooperative play is an important type of social behavior typically delayed in children with ASD. Different types of cooperative behavior rely on different types of mental abilities. For example, cooperation in a prisoner’s dilemma game mainly relies on calculation and strategic thinking, while cooperation implementing a task mainly relies on joint attention and shared intention. No research has yet explored the performance of children with ASD on different kinds of cooperative tasks. The aim of this study is to investigate HFA children’s performance on two different tasks. Researchers hypothesized that HFA children would perform differently on the two kinds of cooperative tasks. The classic prisoner’s dilemma and cooperative implemental tasks were used to investigate cooperation in children with HFA and typically developing (TD) children who were between the ages of 6 to 12 years. Thirty-eight HFA children took part in the experiments, 31 of which completed the prisoner’s dilemma game. Thirty-one TD children, whose age and gender was matched to the participants with ASD, completed the two types of cooperative tasks. Children partnered with an adult assistant for 10 trials during the prisoner’s dilemma game. There were two apparatuses used in the implemental task, including a tube-with-handle task with parallel roles and a double-tube-task with complementary roles. In each implemental task there was an interruption period in which the adult partner stopped interacting with the child. Children’s cooperative performance during the interrupted period was measured. There was no significant difference in cooperation during the prisoner’s dilemma game between participants with HFA and TD children. However, children with HFA showed significantly less cooperative behavior than did TD participants during the interrupted period of the implemental task. Moreover, children with HFA engaged in different types of cooperative and communicative behavior during the interruption period of the two implemental tasks. Results imply that children with HFA performed differently on the two different kinds of cooperative tasks and relied on different types of cognitive abilities.

Key words: high-functioning autism (HFA), cooperation, prisoner’s dilemma game, implemental tasks