Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

R. McKell Carter Carston

Abstract

This study investigated the extent to which animals and objects of special interest to the participant were reported to have anthropomorphic or ‘humanlike’ qualities. It is a natural human tendency to be inclined toward faces and social activities. Deficits in face recognition and social processing are characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Another major characteristic of this disorder is preoccupation with objects or topics of interest. This preoccupation with ‘special interests’, and their co-occurrence with communication deficits may be indicative of a compromise between the two. The hypothesis of this study is that social cognitive systems have been repurposed in ASD to represent objects of special interest. A prediction of this hypothesis is, individuals with ASD may show more evidence of (potentially inappropriately) mixing social and special interest stimuli. This thesis structured a questionnaire aimed at quantifying the mixing of intense special interests, in individuals with ASD in comparison to NT individuals. Participants (N = 68) responded to questions about personal interests including categories in which those interests fell. For this thesis, mixing was examined for object and animal interests. Of the fifteen participants who met this criterion, none of indicated an ASD diagnosis. This thesis instead characterized the extent of anthropomorphization in individuals who were above and below threshold on an autism-screening questionnaire. Results did not support the hypothesis of this thesis. This may be explained by the limited number of responses available for analysis. Future work will include additional data collection.

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