ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (1): 20-32.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.00020

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The social motivation theory of autism spectrum disorder: Exploring mechanisms and interventions

KOU Juan(), YANG Mengyuan, WEI Zijie, LEI Yi()   

  1. Institute of Brain and Psychological Sciences, Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu 610000, China
  • Received:2022-05-25 Online:2023-01-15 Published:2022-10-13
  • Contact: KOU Juan,LEI Yi;


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) comprises symptoms including social communication deficits and unusual repetitive and restrictive sensory-motor behaviors. Social motivation deficits play a central role in ASD social function impairment, which has been proposed in the social motivation theory. Social motivation may be parsed into four components, including social orienting and social reward (seeking and liking), social reward learning, and social maintenance. Previous studies emphasized the necessity of exploring its components systematically and structurally. However, research on early age children with ASD is rare. Objective hallmarks of the social motivation theory of autism and exploring interventions based on it are limited. To produce robust behavioral hallmarks and uncover its brain mechanisms, in the current study we will explore social motivation theory’s components and the relationship among them and develop effective intervention methods. Study 1 we will apply an experimental design to explore early neural and atypical eye movements brain bio-markers using social reward and orienting paradigms by means of eye-tracking and functional near-infrared spectroscopy tools. Ninety ASD and typically developing children will be recruited. Then, based on valid markers detected in Study 1, we will investigate the effect of a social reward-based learning strategy in Study 2 to determine whether it is helpful to strengthen social rewards and other components’ functions, and to improve the relationships among them. Ninety children with ASD will be recruited for Study 2. Forty-five children will undergo Gaze-Contingent Music Reward Therapy (12 weeks). The other 45 will perform a non-rewarding music listening control task. All participants in Study 2 will be evaluated for valid social rewards and social orienting from Study 1 and an assessment of social maintenance before and after the interventions. Thus, the findings may detect unusual hallmarks based on social motivation theory and identify treatment strategies to enhance social motivational processing.

Key words: autism spectrum disorder, the social motivation theory, eye-tracking, functional near-infrared spectroscopy, music reward intervention

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