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Anxiety and motivation in Autism – are social behavioural features driven by social anxiety rather than by a reduced reward response to social stimuli?

Project Description

Social behavioural difficulties are commonly reported by individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC). One of the leading theories suggests that these difficulties are brought about by a reduced reward response to social stimuli, i.e. individuals with ASC often do not ‘like’ social stimuli, leading to lower opportunities of learning from social cues, and consequent social behavioural difficulties. Work from our lab has shown how reward acts as a ‘thermostat’ for controlling certain aspects of social behaviour, and ASC might represent an atypical functioning of this thermostat (Sims et al., 2012; Sims et al., 2014; Haffey et al., 2013; Panasiti et al., 2015; Trilla Gros et al., 2016; Neufeld et al., 2016). Notably however, individuals with ASC also often experience anxiety, especially in social settings. This raises the question of whether some of the observed social behavioural features are driven by social anxiety rather than by a reduced reward response to social stimuli? The experimental approach will typically involve using multiple techniques, that include psychophysics, eye-tracking, psychophysiology, and fMRI (see for evidence of our multi-technique approach). Interested students are recommended to follow the guidelines for PhD students on the relevant lab webpage (

Funding Notes

1st/High 2.i Master's Degree in a relevant discipline (Neuroscience, Psychology, Data Science). Experience in conducting research is essential, though previous experience with ASC is not necessary. Exceptionally talented undergraduate students will also be considered.


How good is research at University of Reading in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.15

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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