Rethinking fast and slow processing in autism

Emily C Taylor, George D Farmer, Lucy A Livingston, Mitchell J Callan, Punit Shah

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Following the popularity of dual process models in social and cognitive psychology, there is major interest in the possibility that autism is associated with impaired "fast" intuitive thinking but enhanced "slow" or "rational" deliberative thinking. If correct, this has great potential to help understand various strengths and difficulties characteristic of autism. Previous empirical investigations of this phenomenon, however, are marred by concerns about the measurement of intuitive and deliberative processing, as well as broader problems in clinical psychological science (e.g., small underpowered studies, lack of replication). Making a step change, we conducted four large-scale studies to examine dual processing in autism, including a preregistered comparison of 200 autistic and nonautistic adults. Participants completed contemporary cognitive and self-report measures of intuitive and deliberative processing, as well as a psychometrically robust measure of general cognitive ability. Except for lower self-reported intuitive thinking, we found no unique contributions of autism to intuitive or deliberative thinking across all four studies, as evidenced by frequentist and Bayesian analyses. Overall, these studies indicate that intuitive and deliberative thinking is neither enhanced nor particularly impaired in relation to autism. We deliberate on the implications of these findings for theories of autism and future investigation of strengths and difficulties in autistic people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)392-406
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science
Issue number4
Early online date31 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding: Emily C. Taylor is supported by a Whorrod Doctoral Scholarship. George D. Farmer was supported by a Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund Award (204796/Z/16/Z).


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