Autistic traits differently account for context-based predictions of physical and social events

Valentina Bianco, Alessandra Finisguerra, Sonia Betti, Giulia D’argenio, Cosimo Urgesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autism is associated with difficulties in making predictions based on contextual cues. Here, we investigated whether the distribution of autistic traits in the general population, as measured through the Autistic Quotient (AQ), is associated with alterations of context-based predictions of social and non-social stimuli. Seventy-eight healthy participants performed a social task, requiring the prediction of the unfolding of an action as interpersonal (e.g., to give) or individual (e.g., to eat), and a non-social task, requiring the prediction of the appearance of a moving shape as a short (e.g., square) or a long (e.g., rectangle) figure. Both tasks consisted of (i) a familiarization phase, in which the association between each stimulus type and a contextual cue was manipulated with different probabilities of co-occurrence, and (ii) a testing phase, in which visual information was impoverished by early occlusion of video display, thus forcing participants to rely on previously learned context-based associations. Findings showed that the prediction of both social and non-social stimuli was facilitated when embedded in high-probability contexts. However, only the contextual modulation of non-social predictions was reduced in individuals with lower ‘Attention switching’ abilities. The results provide evidence for an association between weaker context-based expectations of non-social events and higher autistic traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number418
Number of pages20
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Action observation
  • Action prediction
  • Autism
  • Autistic traits
  • Context
  • Priors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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