Let’s play together, a challenge for autism

Ilaria Minio-Paluello, Department of Psychology
Social Sciences and Humanities

A research study published in the journal Molecular Autism by researchers from Sapienza University of Rome, demonstrates for the first time experimentally that autistic individuals struggle to modulate their behaviour according to their role, in a online motor cooperation task. Difficulties in social communication and interaction are at the core of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), however no previous study has demonstrated experimentally such difficulties in a online joint action cooperation task.

A team from the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, directed by Salvatore Maria Aglioti, Sapienza University of Rome and IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, in collaboration with Bicocca University of Milan, run for the first time a study on a sample of 16 couples of participants composed by one autistic and one neurotypical individual, both with no cognitive disability.
Participants had to grasp an object as synchronously as possible with their partner. One participant was told where to grasp the object, while the other had to infer it from his/her partner’s movement and perform either an opposite or same movement compared to his/her partner. Further, as a control task, participants had to synchronize with a non biological stimulus moving on the screen.

Results show that in an on-line cooperation task, the greater the number of autistic traits, the less participants are able to modulate their joint motor behaviour based on their interactive role.
While this is not the case for the non-social task, where autistic traits do not lead to differences in motor preparation and planning. On the other hand, participants with high number of autistic traits get more distracted by the non-human stimulus.

“Our study, explains Dr Ilaria Minio-Paluello, researcher at Sapienza University, shows that high number of autistic traits predicts a stereotypical motor interactive style in those conditions in which instead, in order to be able to coordinate with your partner, it would be more useful to modulate one’s own movements based on the role played in the interaction”.
Such results highlight that autistic people have reduced ability to modulate their behaviour during motor cooperation, and help clarify some of the many difficulties they face in everyday non-verbal social interaction.

Autistic individuals for example, have difficulties to understand another person’s perspective, use few verbal and non-verbal signals to regulate social interaction, show reduced use and understanding of communicative gestures and body language, have difficulties in reciprocal and cooperative games and to coordinate one’s actions with those of another person for an object to work.


Team Leader
Ilaria Minio-Paluello
Dip. di Psicologia