ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (12): 2209-2223.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.02209

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Social deficits in autism spectrum disorder: A perspective from the social motivation theory

WANG Lei1, HE Huizhong2(), BI Xiaobin1, ZHOU Li1, FAN Xiaozhuang1   

  1. 1Department of Special Education, Faculty of Education, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    2School of Special Education, Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Received:2020-11-08 Published:2021-10-26
  • Contact: HE Huizhong


Social deficits are core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Previous studies, from a social cognition perspective, proposed that a deficit in theory of mind is the cause of social impairment. However, individuals with ASD already exhibited social motivation deficit traits prior to acquiring theory of mind. Furthermore, some individuals who were able to pass theory-of-mind tests continued to show decreased motivation when engaging in social interactions. Social motivation theory suggests that social motivation is an important internal force promoting human evolution and motivating and sustaining an individual's social activities. This theory also highlights that social impairments in ASD may be etiologically related to deficits in neural mechanisms of social motivation and provides a new interpretation of social deficits in terms of behavioral performance, neuroscience, and biology. It is important to further refine research on the neural mechanisms of social motivation, to clarify the scope of application of social motivation theory in individuals with ASD, and to investigate the value of social motivation theory in assessment diagnosis and clinical rehabilitation.

Key words: social motivation theory, autism spectrum disorder, social deficits, reward system

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