Social learning and social motivation: Examining parent-child interactions

Date created: 
Social learning
Autism spectrum disorders
Non-verbal communication
Social responsiveness
Social motivation

Humans are unique in our ability to learn from one another. Our sensitivity to non-verbal communicative cues has been argued to facilitate the learning process, drawing attention to critical information in the learning context. However, it is unclear whether these behaviours derive from children’s motivation to learn, or the motivation to interact and affiliate with others. I examined the use of non-verbal communicative cues in a social learning context in 50 parent-child dyads, with children varying in their desire to interact with others (range = 7-12 years): 26 typically developing (TD) children and 24 children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). When instructed to teach their child a new skill, parents of TD and ASD children produced similar amounts of non-verbal communicative cues. However, children with ASD appeared to use these cues to adjust their behaviour less than their same-age TD peers. Although children with ASD took longer to learn a novel skill, both when learning from a parent and on their own, children’s learning efficiency (speed of learning) was not related to their use of communicative cues from their parent. Finally, children’s parent-reported social responsiveness (as measured by the Multidimensional Social Competence Scale) was positively related to their use of communicative cues.

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Tanya Broesch
Grace Iarocci
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.