University of Sussex
Borbély,_Tamás.pdf (3.31 MB)

The role of inhibitory control in the cooperative play of high-functioning children with autism

Download (3.31 MB)
posted on 2023-06-08, 22:22 authored by Tamás Borbély
This thesis contributes to the executive dysfunction account of autism by demonstrating that impairments in inhibitory control, an aspect of executive functioning, are partially responsible for deficits in the cooperative play of highfunctioning children with autism (HFA). As past research on whether inhibitory control is impaired in autism has been inconclusive, a meta-analysis of 42 empirical studies (57 effect sizes, total n = 2,256) was conducted, which provided clear evidence for impaired inhibition in HFA children. It was also found that the degree of impairment shown does not vary across measures of inhibition, which has important methodological implications for future research. Two experimental studies were carried out to directly test the link between inhibition and three components of cooperation: reciprocity, accepting the play partner’s input, and fairness. In study one, HFA children in primary school and agematched typically-developing (TD) peers were tested on engaging in joint attention, theory of mind (ToM), measures of inhibition, and a cooperative drawing task. The groups did not differ on first-order ToM and joint attention, but HFA participants demonstrated poorer inhibitory control and less cooperative behaviour. Importantly, the degree of impairment in inhibitory control predicted reciprocity and accepting the play partner’s input in HFA children. The second experimental study investigated whether poor inhibitory control can explain the well-established discrepancy between moral reasoning and actual sharing behaviour. A sample of HFA and TD children of primary school age completed a moral reasoning interview, inhibitory control tasks, and a Dictator Game. The results showed that while HFA children demonstrated age-typical levels of moral reasoning and sharing, inhibitory control emerged as the most important predictor of sharing behaviour, lending support to the hypothesis that the ability to suppress one’s own desires is a prerequisite of acting considerately. The last study comprises a qualitative investigation of TD children’s experience of engaging in cooperative play with their sibling who has a diagnosis of HFA. Six children between the ages of 5 and 11 were interviewed, and their reports analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Five themes emerged: poor emotion regulation, restricted interests, and no acceptance of the playmate’s contributions reduced the hedonistic value of joint play for the participants, but these were mitigated by appreciation for the HFA sibling’s creativity and adjustment to the HFA sibling’s behavioural atypicalities. These results can inform the development of support programmes for TD siblings and social skills training for HFA children. Overall, the results of the studies included in this thesis provide evidence that deficits in inhibitory control moderate the relationship between relatively intact social knowledge and impaired social competence in HFA children. This refinement of the executive dysfunction account is a useful building block for an improved multiple-deficit model of the autism phenotype.


File Version

  • Published version



Department affiliated with

  • Psychology Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Theses)


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager