Behavioral Social Neuroscience Seminar
This paper presents a theoretical and neurobiologically-grounded model of attention – and task-switching in response to novel stimuli. Within this framework, I show how key features of autism and of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be explained by simple "biases" (which can be alternatively interpreted as preference shifters) with regards to how agents value potential diversions in relation to a preoccurring task. Specifically, the theory suggests that diversions of this sort are systematically undervalued in autism and overvalued in ADHD, giving rise to the atypically low attention- and task-switching propensities observed in autism and the reverse in ADHD. While making a broader case for the potential value of economic theory as a lens through which to understand such psychiatric conditions, I draw on a range of formal economic concepts — opportunity cost, willingness-to-pay, risk aversion, time preferences, payoff/cost elasticities — to capture many other documented patterns in autism and in ADHD. In doing so, the model motivates a new classification of autism and ADHD as opposites in that their behavioral symptoms arise from opposite underlying biases. That said, the results also show how many of their symptoms — including some in the domain of social behavior — can overlap, if crudely defined, suggesting a potential clinical benefit from more precise diagnostic criteria.