"Wall flowers and chatterboxes": Investigating how measures of autistic traits amongst normal population individuals can explain variance in conversational abilities
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Individuals in the normal population clearly do not have a singularly set amount of abilities when it comes to interacting in conversation. The extent to which people engage and interact with others is clearly highly unique from person to person: some find it easy, others do not. Those with the most dramatic communication deficiencies are said to suffer from a developmental disorder which is found to lie on the high end of the autistic continuum (Wing, 1996). This study sought to investigate the area of conversational abilities and the extent to which variance found amongst normal population individuals can also go some way in being accounted for by degrees of autistic traits falling on such an autistic continuum The study involved student participants (N=41) undertaking two communication tasks as well as the completion of a self reporting AQ questionnaire. Task one was a referential communication task with methodological design based around that of Hanna, Tanenhaus and Trueswell (2003).Task one measured the extent to which the director participant took into account Audience design when producing their utterances in a directing an addressee. Task two measured the extent to which the participant lexically aligned with their (i.e. As a speaker producing the same utterances as they had heard from their fellow conversant as a listener). The results of the AQ questionnaire were run with the results of each task. The key finding of the study was in the significant negative correlation found between results of AQ and task 2 (Pearson’s r=-0.536, p<0.05). This finding suggests that the higher that an individual fall on the autistic continuum, the less likely they are to employ lexical alignment in conversation. This is in keeping with the experimental hypothesis as it demonstrates between points on the autistic spectrum and the individual’s ability to employ useful conversational techniques.