We are in the process of launching a new project exploring neurodiverse social interactions. Its full title is Diversity in Social Intelligence: an examination of culturally-specific social intelligence among people on the autism spectrum.
The video below explains what taking part in this research would mean for you.
Intelligence is often boiled down to a simple test score, representing core learning skills such as pattern detection and verbal fluency. However other forms of intelligence are essential for human behaviour. One such form is social intelligence – the repertoire of skills needed to engage effectively with others, in a way which is appropriate to the context. These skills are often referred to in psychology by the umbrella term “social cognition”. This encompasses abilities such as emotion recognition, effective interpersonal communication and theory of mind. The second aspect of social intelligence is appreciation of the social context. Examples of social contexts include the cultural context (e.g. Japan vs. the UK), the relationship context (e.g. friend vs. stranger) and the environmental context (e.g. school versus home).
This proposal presents a bold re-conceptualisation of intelligence within a neurodiversity framework, challenging the notion that there is only one legitimate form of human intelligence. Specifically, we will explore social intelligence in autism, drawing together diverse findings to build a hypothesis that autistic social skills may be enhanced in an autism-specific cultural context: i.e. when interacting with other people on the autism spectrum. This hypothesis will be rigorously tested with experimental, quantitative descriptive and qualitative methods. In particular we will adapt a cultural learning paradigm to explore transmission of information between autistic/autistic pairs compared with mixed and comparison pairs. The project will contribute key scientific evidence to a radical socio-political shift in conceptualisation of autism, and other states of neurodiversity, as difference, rather than disability. Outputs will include recommendations to policy makers and public communications as well as high-impact journal papers. We expect this innovative line of enquiry to inspire further academic investigation of neurodiverse intelligences.
The first research phase involves exploring the differences in how autistic and neurotypical people complete tasks when they are paired with autistic and neurotypical people. Participants will be invited to attend a research day in groups of six people. We will use a technique called a “diffusion chain”. This involves one person learning how to do a particular puzzle or task, and then teaching this to the second participant. The second person then teaches this to the third participant, who teaches it to the fourth participant and so on. This will allow us to see whether autistic and neurotypical people learn how to do certain tasks and transfer information in a certain way when they are interacting with autistic and neurotypical partners.
The second research phase involves interviewing autistic people about their social experiences and relationships with other people on the autism spectrum and those without autism. These interviews will take place at the participants home, via skype, using online chat, or in person at the DART lab.
The third research phase involves asking autistic and neurotypical people to watch videos of autistic and neurotypical pairs having a conversation, and rating the quality of their social interaction.
Best practice in autism research features equal partnerships between academics and autistic community representatives. This is reflected in our research approach.
The grant proposal was guided by autistic mentors including Kabie Brook. Our research team includes two autistic consultants, Claire Evans-Williams and Cos Michael, and we work with local volunteer mentors to provide wider representation. Autistic people have, and will continue to be, involved at every stage of the design and implementation of this research.
If you would like to be involved in the project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We have published our first Open Science Protocol here.
We will be publishing additional protocols relating to other bits of the research project in the coming months: watch this space!
We are funded by the Templeton World Charitable Foundation under their Diverse Intelligences Initiative. Find out more here.
Why is this project sometimes called ND-IQ?
The early working title of this project was Neurodiverse Intelligence, or “ND-IQ” for short. We are funded by the Templeton World Charitable Foundation who fund research into different kinds of intelligence. As the project evolved and through discussion between Sonny, Fergus, Catherine and Sue, the title changed to Diversity in Social Intelligence.
I’d like to take part in your research, where can I sign up?
We’ll have a sign up link available soon. If you’d like to hear when we are recruiting participants, please send us an email.
I want to take part in your research: where can I get more information about what I’ll have to do?
When we start recruiting for participants we will update this page with a description of what will be involved in the day. We will also include a video of the department so you can see what it looks like, and some more information about the building.
I want to take part in your research: where will I have to go?
Our research days will be at the Kennedy Tower, Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
What is the building like? What is the research space like?
To see a video of our lab and the space you’ll be visiting if you participate, please click here
Why do people get put into the yellow, red, and green studies? Why are some people doing interviews and some people doing other things?
This research is designed to explore diversity in social interaction using different techniques. We are asking different groups of participants to do different tasks so that we can find out about how autistic and neurotypical interact in lots of different ways.
Will other people watch videos of me?
If you are a participant in the Red study, we’ll ask to video you having a chat with another person about the kinds of things you like doing. The participants in the Green study will then watch short video clips of these chats. The Green study participants will be asked to tell us what they think about the conversations in the video clips.
We’re doing this to see whether autistic and non-autistic people have different thoughts and opinions about peoples’ conversations, and whether this is different when the people having the conversations are autistic or non-autistic.
We’ll check with participants in the Red study that they are happy for us to show these videos to other participants for this purpose after they’ve been recorded.
Do I need to have a formal, clinical, or “official” diagnosis of autism to take part?
No. We understand that there are many reasons that people may not pursue a formal diagnosis. You can take part in our research if you identify as being autistic, or as being on the autism spectrum, without having a formal diagnosis.
We will also be recruiting neurotypical adults too – so if you are not autistic you can also take part!
Why are participants paid in vouchers and bank transfers, and not cash?
Because of new HMRC rules, we aren’t allowed to pay our participants in cash. We understand this isn’t ideal. What we can do is either give participants vouchers on the day (which can be iTunes, Amazon, or Love2Shop), or participants can fill in a form (which includes their bank details) and we can arrange to have their payment paid directly to their bank account within 10 days.
What do I need to bring with me to a research day?
We’d recommend that you bring something to do in your time in the breaks – for example a book, your laptop, or something you find relaxing or interesting to do between the research tasks. Everyone will have their own office room to spend the breaks in. If you’d like, we can also lend you an iPad with internet access to use during the breaks in the research day.
You can also bring a drink and snacks if you like – though we’ll provide some food and drinks on the day.
If you’d like to be paid by bank transfer, you’ll need to bring a copy of your bank details, including the sort code and account number (these are usually on the front of your bank card).
Can I ask a question?
Of course! Please contact us by email at DART@ed.ac.uk, or via phone 0131 537 6505.