Motivational Orientation and Academic Achievement in Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Electrophysiological Investigation

Date of Award

August 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Natalie Russo


Academic Achievement, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Error Related Negativity, Motivation, Self Determination Theory

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Feasible and effective school-based services for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are needed (Hartford, 2011). Research indicates the benefits autonomous motivation for learning in typically developing (TD) students (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009; Reeve, 2002) and some research supports this in students with ASD (Shea, Millea, & Diehl, 2013). Additionally, differences in motivational orientations are associated with individual differences in neural response to errors (Legault & Inzlicht, 2013). Thus, how students process errors at a neural level may in turn influence their academic outcomes. The goal of the present study was to investigate the relation between motivational orientation and academic achievement, as well as the potential mediating role of the ERN in this relation. Sixteen participants with ASD and 16 TD participants participated in the present study. Participants and parents’ completed questionnaires, and participants completed standardized testing and a computer-based task while Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) were recorded. No group differences were noted in either the amplitude or the latencies of the ERN, suggesting that the ERN may be a better indicator of within, rather than between, group differences. The relation between motivational orientation and academic achievement were not significant, and thus, the mediating role of the ERN was not evaluated. Within the ASD group, exploratory analyses found a relation between the ERN amplitude and repetitive behaviors and academic achievement, which were driven both ERPs to correct responses. This indicates that individuals with ASD may have increased performance monitoring across all trials, and that this is related to individual differences (e.g., repetitive behaviors and achievement). Anxiety symptoms were high in ASD, but were not related to the ERN, suggesting that anxiety in ASD may be uniquely different from anxiety in TD individuals.


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