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Pragmatic inferences in high-functioning adults with autism and Asperger syndrome


Hagoort,  Peter
Unification, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Neurobiology of Language Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging RU Nijmegen NL;

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Pijnacker, J., Hagoort, P., Buitelaar, J., Teunisse, J.-P., & Geurts, B. (2009). Pragmatic inferences in high-functioning adults with autism and Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(4), 607-618. doi:10.1007/s10803-008-0661-8.

Although people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often have severe problems with pragmatic aspects of language, little is known about their pragmatic reasoning. We carried out a behavioral study on highfunctioning adults with autistic disorder (n = 11) and Asperger syndrome (n = 17) and matched controls (n = 28) to investigate whether they are capable of deriving scalar implicatures, which are generally considered to be pragmatic inferences. Participants were presented with underinformative sentences like ‘‘Some sparrows are birds’’. This sentence is logically true, but pragmatically inappropriate if the scalar implicature ‘‘Not all sparrows are birds’’ is derived. The present findings indicate that the combined ASD group was just as likely as controls to derive scalar implicatures, yet there was a difference between participants with autistic disorder and Asperger syndrome, suggesting a potential differentiation between these disorders in pragmatic reasoning. Moreover, our results suggest that verbal intelligence is a constraint for task performance in autistic disorder but not in Asperger syndrome.