Adults with autism spectrum disorders exhibit decreased sensitivity to reward parameters when making effort-based decisions.
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BACKGROUND: Efficient effort expenditure to obtain rewards is critical for optimal goal-directed behavior and learning. Clinical observation suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may show dysregulated reward-based effort expenditure, but no behavioral study to date has assessed effort-based decision-making in ASD. METHODS: The current study compared a group of adults with ASD to a group of typically developing adults on the Effort Expenditure for Rewards Task (EEfRT), a behavioral measure of effort-based decision-making. In this task, participants were provided with the probability of receiving a monetary reward on a particular trial and asked to choose between either an "easy task" (less motoric effort) for a small, stable reward or a "hard task" (greater motoric effort) for a variable but consistently larger reward. RESULTS: Participants with ASD chose the hard task more frequently than did the control group, yet were less influenced by differences in reward value and probability than the control group. Additionally, effort-based decision-making was related to repetitive behavior symptoms across both groups. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that individuals with ASD may be more willing to expend effort to obtain a monetary reward regardless of the reward contingencies. More broadly, results suggest that behavioral choices may be less influenced by information about reward contingencies in individuals with ASD. This atypical pattern of effort-based decision-making may be relevant for understanding the heightened reward motivation for circumscribed interests in ASD.