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

Giacomo Vivanti*, Darren R. Hocking, Peter Fanning, Cheryl Dissanayake

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular autism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Autism
  • Imitation
  • Learning
  • Social cognition
  • Social learning
  • Williams syndrome

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