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Social affiliation motives modulate spontaneous learning in Williams syndrome but not in autism

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posted on 2022-03-29, 04:59 authored by Giacomo VivantiGiacomo Vivanti, Darren HockingDarren Hocking, P Fanning, Cheryl DissanayakeCheryl Dissanayake
Background: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with Williams syndrome (WS) have difficulties with learning, though the nature of these remains unclear. Methods: In this study, we used novel eye-tracking and behavioral paradigms to measure how 36 preschoolers with ASD and 21 age- and IQ-matched peers with WS attend to and learn novel behaviors (1) from the outcomes of their own actions (non-social learning), (2) through imitation of others' actions (social learning), and across situations in which imitative learning served either an instrumental function or fulfilled social affiliation motives. Results: The two groups demonstrated similar abilities to learn from the consequences of their own actions and to imitate new actions that were instrumental to the achievement of a tangible goal. Children with WS, unlike those with ASD, increased their attention and imitative learning performance when the model acted in a socially engaging manner. Conclusions: Learning abnormalities in ASD appear to be linked to the social rather than instrumental dimensions of learning.


G.V. was supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services. D.H. is supported by an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Grant (DE160100042).


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Molecular Autism





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BioMed Central



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© 2016 The Author(s). Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.