Williams & Happe (2009). Self-awareness of action monitoring

In References on June 22, 2009 at 6:28 am

ID: 01


Williams & Happe (2009). Pre-conceptual aspects of self-Awareness in Autism Spectrum Disorder:
   The case of action-monitoring. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 251-259.  



Experiment 1: The performance of participants with ASD should be poorer than that of comparison participants in the Self condition only, if they have an impaired sense of their own agency.

Experiment 2: children with ASD are less able to distinguish the actions of self and other in memory; they show a bias toward recalling the actions of others more reliably than their own actions.

à Participants were given an unexpected memory test, requiring them to return the cards to the players who had placed them (child, child’s doll partner, experimenter, experimenter’s doll partner).


Experiment 1:

Participants: 16 children with ASD and 16 children with intellectual disabilities  -à no typical comparison group.

 IQ around  72 à not exactly high-functioning autism

No group differences.

  1. In the Squares task –computer screen. The mouse was located inside a cardboard box, which obscured vision of the hand movements with movements of the squares on the screen. Two ways in which the difficulty of the task was manipulated were (a) increasing number of distractors and (b) varying the degree of similarity in the movements of the distractor squares relative to the target square.
    1. The main effect of condition was significant, reflecting the superior performance than in the Other-person condition.
    2. The main effect of diagnosis group was not significant, indicating that participants with ASD showed the same level of performance, across condition, as comparison participants.
    3. The interaction between diagnostic group and condition was not significant, indicating that participants with ASD showed the same pattern of performance, across conditions, as comparison participants.
    4. A second ANOVA, with number of trials completed in each task condition as the within participants variables, produced an identical pattern of results.
    5. The results of experiment 1 do not support the claim that individuals with ASD are impaired in their ability to monitor their own basic actions, online.


Experiment 2:

This experiemnt explored the recall performance, of children and adolescents with ASD for their own actions, compared to their recall of the actions of another person.

Participants: 16 children with autism and 16 children with intellectual disability.

The aim of a board game was to place each card on its corresponding picture on the board and there were four players in the game: the experimenter, the participant, and two dolls which would, respectively, be ‘partners’ for the experimenter and the participant.

Each player has a pile of eight cards laid face down beside them, the corresponding board positions of which were evenly distributed. Players took it in turn to place the cards down on the board. The experimenter laid the first of his cards and the laid a card on behalf of his doll partner. The participant then laid a card on behalf of the partner before laying one of their own cards.

After all of the cards had been laid, the experimenter removed the board, leaving the picture cards, and introduced the memory test.

“Ok, now you have to remember who each of the cards belong to.”


Data were analyzed using a 2×4 repeated measures ANOVA with diagnostic group as the between-participants factor and card origin as the within-participants variables with correction of  Greenhouse-Geisser estimates of sphericity.

The main effect of card origins was significant, showing that participants’ recall performance was reliably affected overall by the source of the items. Participants correctly returned significantly more cards to themselves than to their own doll. Participants also correctly returned more cards to themselves than to the experimenter, although this difference only approached significance.

The main effect of diagnostic group was not significant, indicating that participants with ASD showed the same level of recall performance, overall, as did comparison participants.

Finally, there was not significant interaction between card origin and diagnostic group, indicating that participants with ASD showed the same pattern of recall performance as did comparison participants.


Relationship between performance on the source memory task and performance on the squares task


A series of exploratory correlation analyses were conducted, comparing the performance of participants across each condition of the Squares and source memory task. In order to ensure that the above significant correlations were not confounded by general verbal ability, a series of partial correlations, controlling VMA, were conducted. When VMA was controlled, only the correlation between Squares Self x Source Memory Self remained significant (r=.39)


This study failed to replicate Russell & Jarrold’s findings of a source monitoring impairment in children with ASD. Participants with ASD showed almost identical levels of recall performance to comparison participants. Furthermore, they also showed very similar patterns of performance on the experimental task, each group finding their own cards the easiest to recall.  These findings suggest that individuals with ASD are typical in encoding information in memory in self-relevant ways.

Performance on the Self condition of the source memory task was significantly associated with performance on the Self condition on the Squares task, independently of the effects of VMA.


The findings from Experiments 1 & 2 do not support the notion that ASD involves a deficit in action monitoring.


One potential reason for this discrepancy between our results and those of Russell and Jarrold could be the employment of a developmentally more able group of participants with ASD in current study.


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