Thinking, fast and slow on the autism spectrum

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The Dual Process Theory of Autism proposes that autistic individuals demonstrate greater deliberative (slower) processing alongside reduced (faster) intuitive processing. This study manipulated the reasoning time available to investigate the extent to which deliberative and intuitive processing are sensitive to time context in autism. A total of 74 young autistic people and 132 control participants completed the Cognitive Reflection Test to measure intuition and deliberation, with responses being either speeded (fast condition) or delayed (slow condition). The autistic group produced more deliberative and less intuitive responses than controls overall. Both groups showed more intuitive responses in the fast condition and more deliberative responses in the slow condition, demonstrating the reasoning style in autism is sensitive to context. Lay abstract: What is already known about the topic Daniel Kahneman wrote a highly influential book titled ‘thinking, fast and slow’. He proposes that people usually think in a rapid, automatic, intuitive style. When people realise their intuitive thinking may be wrong, a slower, effortful, deliberative style of thinking takes over. It has recently been proposed that thinking in autistic individuals can be characterised as usually thinking in the deliberative style (rather than the intuitive style that non-autistic people usually think in). What this paper adds As intuitive thinking is fast and deliberative thinking is slow, this research manipulated the time available to complete a series of reasoning questions. These questions have been developed to have intuitive answers (which are incorrect) and deliberative answers (which are correct). For the first time, a fast time manipulation (you must answer quickly) and slow (you must think about your answer before responding) was undertaken with autistic individuals. Autistic participants did produce more deliberative answers than the non-autistic participants. However, both groups produced comparably more intuitive answers and less deliberative answers in the fast condition. This shows that while autistic people tend not to use their intuition, autistic people can be encouraged to use their intuition. Implications for practice, research or policy Using rapid intuition can be useful in fast-changing contexts, such as some social situations. Future research can explore how to support autistic individuals to use their intuition when the need arises. In addition, the propensity for deliberation resulting in unbiased, correct responses reflects a strengths-based account of autism. This requires more mental effort and is less susceptible to bias and errors. This is called ‘Dual Process Theory’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1245-1255
Issue number5
Early online date3 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2023


  • cognition (attention, learning, memory)
  • deliberation
  • intuition
  • psychological theories of autism
  • reasoning
  • thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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