Intentional action and Asperger Syndrome

Do people with Asperger Syndrome understand intentional actions in a different way than people without Asperger Syndrome? Edouard Machery, a philosopher of psychology and an experimental philosopher in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, says they do:
Consider the following probes:

The Free-Cup Case
Joe was feeling quite dehydrated, so he stopped by the local smoothie shop to buy the largest sized drink available. Before ordering, the cashier told him that if he bought a Mega-Sized Smoothie he would get it in a special commemorative cup. Joe replied, ‘I don't care about a commemorative cup, I just want the biggest smoothie you have.' Sure enough, Joe received the Mega-Sized Smoothie in a commemorative cup. Did Joe intentionally obtain the commemorative cup?

The Extra-Dollar Case
Joe was feeling quite dehydrated, so he stopped by the local smoothie shop to buy the largest sized drink available. Before ordering, the cashier told him that the Mega-Sized Smoothies were now one dollar more than they used to be. Joe replied, ‘I don't care if I have to pay one dollar more, I just want the biggest smoothie you have.' Sure enough, Joe received the Mega-Sized Smoothie and paid one dollar more for it. Did Joe intentionally pay one dollar more?

You surely think that paying an extra dollar was intentional, while getting the commemorative cup was not. So do most people (Machery, 2008).

But Tiziana Zalla and I have found that if you had Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, your judgments would be very different: You would judge that paying an extra-dollar was not intentional, just like getting the commemorative cup (Zalla and Machery ms).

Intentional action and Asperger Syndrome


  1. This angers me because my instant reaction was that he didn’t intentionally pay the dollar, and no one believes me when I use undiagnosed Asperger’s as an excuse for my anti-social tendencies.

    Thank gods the internet came along and proved me right again.

  2. Damn. Based on this I now have Asperger Syndrome. I don’t see the difference. He just wanted the biggest drink regardless. Didn’t he?

  3. I thought I didn’t have Aspergers, but I thought both were unintentional, but mostly because I didn’t really understand the question. I can see how the second one might be.

    This doesn’t constitute a diagnosis, does it?

  4. @1 That’s because you’re probably not qualified to be diagnosing yourself. If you really think you have a problem, go see a doctor. Until then, people calling bullshit are in the right.

  5. this is funny cause I have had people tell me i should get tested for aspergers and I didn’t think he intentionally paid the dollar. However I don’t think that knowing if I had aspergers or not would change my behavior so I am intentionally not getting tested.

  6. Shouldn’t Intention be defined with respect to some specfic reference point? Is that reference point defined, in the questions?

  7. He was thirsty and wanted a big smoothie… his intent was to drink a big smoothie. Anything else seems coincidental and unimportant.

  8. Well, color me an aspie. It’d explain a lot I guess, but I’m not convinced… especially by this. The situation is not even fully qualified; had Joe even been there before, in the second vignette?

  9. He went for the large after he was informed it would cost him a dollar more than it used to. That is intentional.

    The commemorative cup had no effect on his choice, not intentional.

    1. He went for the large after he was informed it would cost him a dollar more than it used to. That is intentional.

      There was no change in his intent before and after discovering the price change. Unintentional. This example puts different weights on added value and subtracted value. That’s a built-in prejudice in the experiment.

  10. @ #6 THANK YOU. I agree with most the other dissenters– his intention was the sate his thirst, damn the money or the cup. How does recognizing that constitute Aspergers? Any reliable diagnosis would come from a method of analyzing why the reader chose as s/he did.

  11. For any reasonable meaning of intentional, both cases were.

    And I hate to sound harsh, but if you look at the totality of the research, aspergers, autism and any other ‘spectrum’ disorders are probably just forms of brain damage.

  12. Let’s look at this in an abstract way: Joe says he wants an X. The shopkeeper says that in order to get an X, the customer must also accept a Y. Does the customer intend to accept a Y? (Based on the way the questions are formulated, I think the experimenters are doing this abstraction).

    Here, X is the large smoothie; Y is either the special cup or the payment of an extra dollar.

    There are two logical answers: you can argue that the customer didn’t intend to accept Y, he wants an X and Y is just a side effect. Or you can say that by agreeing, the customer changes his intention and now intends to accept Y.

    And then there’s the illogical answer based on distinguishing the situations based on social expectations. So this seems to say that the general public is less logical than an Aspie, which doesn’t surprise me.

  13. @ #10 That’s the implication, but I don’t understand why the dollar is considered to be necessarily intentional. Some may consider it. Some may not. A dollar isn’t much of anything, if you just want a big smoothie.

  14. Anyone who feels doubtful, unconvinced, or just wants some more information should follow the link and read the paper?

    1. Anyone who feels doubtful, unconvinced, or just wants some more information should follow the link and read the paper?

      I followed the link and then I intentionally tried to find more pictures of the blogger.

  15. So is Aspergers syndrom super common or something? He decided he wanted the largest drink in both cases before knowing about the commemorative cup or extra dollar.

    Like so many people here, I can’t see at all why the two statements are supposed to be different in terms of intention.

  16. I’d say both are intentional. The intention might not have been very significant to his choice, but he got both the commemorative cup, and the expensive drink, by choice. It would only be unintentional if he was surprised by them.

  17. Ay, sure, spook ME into thinking I have Asperger’s too. Here I thought I was just a logical weirdo.

    By sheer logic, both are unintentional. Come on.

  18. In 1, the cup is determined by the server, which does not matter to Joe. Joe takes no steps in order to procure the commemorative cup.

    In 2, the dollar is paid by Joe, willingly and intentionally in order to achieve his larger intention. It is the cost that does not matter to Joe, but the dollar he pays is intentional.

  19. @7 Narual, and, to some extent @6 Mattxb:

    His intention was not to drink a “big smoothie”; his stated intention was to drink the biggest smoothie.

    The commemorative cup and the extra dollar are similar in the sense that they both come with the biggest smoothie and that they might be non-negotiable.

    However, the words “I don´t care” clearly carry a different message in the two different conversational contexts.
    In the first context, you dismiss the cup.
    In the second context, you agree to the terms of payment.

  20. Umm. What does it say that on my first reading I feel that getting the commemorative cup is intentional while paying the extra dollar is not? I mean, surely the intention is to get THAT cup because it is the largest. The fact that it is also the the commemorative cup is immaterial too me.

    The intent is to get the largest cup. I don’t care that the cup is special or more expensive. You could MAYBE say that the commemorative cup is more intentional than the dollar but still….

    Most people see this differently? Really?

  21. I can see the goal of the probes (and I like the idea of using these types of questions to diagnose Aspergers), but I agree with what’s been alluded to already: it seems like the value of the dollar (or, per the actual question asked, the euro) might affect the participant’s answer.

    For example, if the cost of the bigger cup were twenty dollars more, I suspect more normal people would say that it was unintentional, given that the increase would seem personally unreasonable to the participant.

    Given that people with Aspergers generally have a more difficult time securing employment (and that seems more likely here, given that the study participants were recruited from a hospital), it’s entirely plausible that they might personally think that a dollar/euro increase was unreasonable and therefore unintentional. It seems like that would be a possible alternative explanation for the results.

  22. #13: Thank you.

    “So is Aspergers syndrom super common or something?”

    I just think that most readers are BoingBoing are geeks/nerds/scientists/non-conventional people, and that therefore it’s normal for us to be marginal regarding test measuring conventionality of thought.
    Also, I don’t think that one can diagnose Asperger’s Syndrome solely on that test.

  23. Apparently Aspergers people have just learned how formal logic works.


    Joe wants largest drink.

    Mega-Sized Smoothies were now one dollar more.

    If the largest drink *is* the Mega smoothie it will be +$1 more (than it once was)

    Joe received the Mega-Sized Smoothie and paid one dollar more for it.

    In order for it to be intentional Joe would need to know that the Mega smoothie was the largest drink (maybe there was an extra-mega smoothie.)

    1. MS = +$1 possible X-MS = +$0

    2. The fact that MS were NOW +$1 assumes that Joe had been there before to know what the price increase meant.

    Neither of these premises / variables were given in the narrative, so it is impossible to say that he intentionally chose to pay an extra dollar.

    (I took logic 10+ years ago, so I am probably alittle wrong somewhere. Wish I remembered how to put it all into Pv~P form.)

  24. Maybe if you make these into more significant things…

    1) If you get a large smoothie, we’ll give you a $50 gift card for the store of your choice

    2) large smoothie now costs $100 more

    Or even matters of convenience… the large smoothie now costs $1 more than you have in your pocket, and you’ll have to go to the ATM across the street in order to afford it.

    IMO, it’s unintentional unless it’s something that he’d consider significant enough to need to make a decision about. Clearly, he didn’t consider $1 or being gifted with some special cup to be of that degree of significance.

  25. It seems that people with Asperger Syndrome are making an error in judgment, in the described scenario. People without Asperger Syndrome who agree with the Asperger sufferer’s judgment seem to be sociopaths, in that they do not recognize responsibility for one’s own actions. You know: “Your Honor, Sir! I did not intentionally kill that man. I was only trying to get the money from the wallet in his pocket. Just because I had to kill him to do it, does not mean that there was any intention to kill him, for my part.”

  26. If he paid with singles then he intentionally gave $1 more, if he paid with a larger bill he didn’t care, just as he didn’t care about the damn cup.

  27. So does it still count as Aspergers if someone has to explain it to you afterwards, or is it based on the first impression (and lasting impression, in my case)?

    Because judging from the status quo here, maybe they should conduct this study again with Boingers only.

  28. Interesting! I answer this like a “normal” person, but I score relatively high on various casual Aspie tests.

    @inboulder, #12: Must be nice to have paid up for the deluxe internet medical degree, so that you can diagnose brain damage from a distance.

  29. Which is to say that I think that maybe the test proves something about Aspergers people being very literal and not “getting” e.g. Gricean Maxims.

    It’s like if I said, “Have you seen Tim?”
    You: “No, but there is a blue VW beetle parked in front of Cindy’s house.”

    We make a huge leap everytime we take an exchange like that to mean, Tim drives a Blue Beetle and knows Cindy and if there is a BB in front of C’s house it might mean that Tim is there.

    But if you are literally-minded, you do not make that connection any more than you make the inferred connection that the largest possible drink is the Mega Smoothie.

  30. Read Temple Grandin?

    I have worked with severe-to-moderate Asperger’s kids, and their internal logic sometimes jibes with this and sometimes not, in my experience.

  31. Last try:

    Here’s the problem. Missing Premise in scenario #2:

    “The largest drink *is* the Mega smoothie.”

    Since that premise was missing, the choice was not intentional.

  32. I find it very interesting that most commenters here either try to “solve the puzzle” with formal logic, or by guessing at how Joe values his money.

    To me it is dead obvious that this isn’t really about logic or monetary values at all, this is all about social interaction and subtext.

    To quote myself:
    The words “I don´t care” clearly carry a different message in the two different conversational contexts.

    In the first context, you (unsuccessfully) dismiss the cup.
    = unintentional cup.

    In the second context, you agree to the terms of payment.
    = intentional extra dollar.

    This might be both illogical and infuriating, but thats just how human to human interaction works. Get used to it.

    BTW: did mr Spock and Cosmo Kramer have aspbergers?
    This souds like something they might get entangled in.

  33. #13 makes the most sense here. If you didn’t pay enough attention to what he said, go back and try again! :)

  34. As someone with professionally diagnosed (although mild) Aspergers I thought the first case was unintentional and the second intentional (the guy’s making a choice to spend the extra money isn’t he?). So does this mean…

    a) I was misdiagnosed

    b) This test is so much horse puckey

    c) I have Aspergers, but I’m also a cheapskate :)

  35. Everybody knows that the commemorative cup is probably a huge piece of crap, like a “High School Musical 3 Commemorative Cup.” Plus it’s made from some wicked toxic plastic that’s abso-LUTE-ly not bio-friendly.

    And I feel sorry for the kid working the counter when this mysteriously dehydrated nutjob comes flailing in demanding the largest smoothie they have, damn the expense. And the kid has to be like, “Would you like your Mega-Sized Smoothie in a Ginormous High School Musical 3 Commemorative Cup? Because that’s all it comes in.” And Joe’s like, “I don’t give a flying fuck what you PUT it in. I’m THIRSTY as SHIT. Can’t you SEE that?”

    And the kid’s like, “There’s another scenario where there’s not a Commemorative Cup, but the Mega-Sized Smoothie costs a dollar more…” And Joe’s like “Dude, honestly, just give me the fucking Smoothie before I implode from the raw shriveling dessicating effects of this wicked dehydration I’m suffering. Have you got fucking Asperger’s or something?” And the kid starts crying because he does, in fact, have Aspergers.

    And the man behind Joe in line is actually Phillip K. Dick, who is dreaming, and will wake.

  36. inboulder: Considering that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome are the people who left your SAT scores in the dust, who got scholarships based on academic excellence, who went on to design the infrastructure of the Internet and the devices that access it: I’m sorry, brain damage what?

    Different isn’t damaged.

    William @31: I concur with your second statement.


    For people with Asperger’s, (such as myself), particular phrases have particular set meanings.

    If a non-Asperger’s person says “I don’t care if I have to pay an extra dollar …” – it means to them that they have evaluated the entire expression, or statement, and they understand that the other person’s intent is to let them know of a change from a previously established norm of commercial exchange, and that this information is provided as a kindness to give the customer an opportunity to evaluate their purchase. (It is also used to remind the customer that they are indebted to the retailer for having supplied the item to them at lower-than-apparent-market-value, previously. Ah, the lessons of advertising studies.) It is an interaction between two people.

    For someone with Asperger’s, when they say “I don’t care if I have to pay an extra dollar …”, it means that they have performed a short-circuit cost-benefit analysis of the commercial exchange and that, in this instance, the extra dollar is irrelevant or trivial. Consideration of human interaction is not a part of this function. The numerical valuation of the cost of the item may not even be part of the cost-benefit analysis, if the person with Asperger’s is not prepared to re-evaluate how much they are spending on the item at that point in time; Decisions on whether or not to continue to purchase an item that is purchased routinely are often performed later, at a time dedicated to working out budgets.

    Asking him/her to focus on budgeting concerns during acquiring the item, often while the person is thinking of something entirely different, is distracting, de-railing, and oftentimes viewed as unkind – it is not something they would do to another person: making them re-evaluate their choices on the fly. It also breaks a habit or routine, the existence of which people with Asperger’s find comforting and soothing.

    They are dismissing the entire interaction. Their intent is not to spend an extra dollar – their intent is to accomplish a routine task they have already planned out.

    To a non-Asperger’s Syndrome person, a cup is a cup but a dollar more is cause to re-evaluate, and a person is helping them.

    For someone with Asperger’s, both the choice of cup and the dollar (as well as navigating the human interaction of proffering them the choice) are obstacles between them and a goal.

    People with Asperger’s have a theory of self. It’s just not the theory of self that non-Asperger’s Syndrome people share.

    I hope this helps people understand people with Asperger’s.

  37. People with Asperger’s have a theory of self. It’s just not the theory of self that non-Asperger’s Syndrome people share.

    Thanks, Bardfinn.

  38. EeyoreX @ 36 is correct. People are not logic machines.

    did mr Spock and Cosmo Kramer have aspbergers?

    Neither, they were cartoon characters.

  39. As a mother of a child with Asperger’s, I am not surprised that I too felt that neither were intentional. I also find the logic screwy in that in the “agency”. The counter kid has the cup suggesting he determines the Aspie’s intention as the latter cannot get what he wants without the former’s intending him to get it.

    In the second scenario, the agency is reversed, ONLY if the Aspie sees that they are limited in their desired intention with respect to whether or not they have that extra dollar. If they do than you cannot prove intention, as the outcome is still acheivable regardless of the intent.

    F*ck, you know what. The cost of the smoothie was never presented, therefore there is NO WAY intention can be proven. Bardfinn makes sense with their presentation.

    If I understand their logic, do I too have Asperger’s?

    btw #11-I think the word “damage” might be considered a perjorative. If you did not know this and had no malintent with that definition, then you might have Asperger’s,

  40. @#40, that made complete sense to me.

    I have always told people I suspected I had a mild form of autism. How would I get this officially diagnosed?

    Those two scenarios are equal to me. It didn’t even occur to me they could be different. I would just want my damned drink!

  41. I thought both were the same. He said, “i don’t care.” So I thought – well I guess he didn’t really intend to (get the cup or pay the extra dollar). Though reading other comments (and talking to dragonfrog) I suppose legally he intended both. But either way – they’re both the same.

  42. For what it is worth, I checked Wikipedia, and then Google, for a definition of “theory of self” and found no helpful discussions thereon, so I would like to clarify – by “theory of self”, I am referring to the notional model of human-to-human interaction, morals, and ethics that most people learn and model their own behaviour on and by which they understand the drives and motivations of other people.

    For people with Asperger’s, the theory of self is often modelled on their own drives and desires or those of close peers or people they respect at a young age.

    They reflect on what other people would like, dislike, and recognise that other people often have different priorities than they do, although they may find a particular goal or priority to be over-riding simple un-rationally-justified emotional dislike or offense. They also have a sense of empathy, in that they can and do often recognise that other people have been made happy or uncomfortable in a particular situation even though they have not had the same response or a response at a level others would normally find to be appropriate. They often find unrehearsed, unscripted ‘normal’ human interaction to be difficult, and avoid it, because making other people uncomfortable / sad / angry / confused makes them uncomfortable / sad / angry / confused, even if they don’t emotionally or intuitively understand how the offense occurred.

    Contrast this with a clinical sociopath, who has no empathy for others, and has no or only an intellectualised theory of self. These people do not feel empathy for others, but instead feel no emotional response to someone’s distress or happiness – or a thrill from having manipulated someone’s emotional response, a response they do not share.

    Successful sociopaths learn the rules of human interaction, and self-interested and intelligent successful sociopaths avoid situations where they may be found out, and in some cases they even learn to avoid situations where they would be tempted to indulge antisocial behaviour. They still do not have an inherent theory of self. They are drug addicts, but their brain gives them the drug.

  43. This is a very interesting discussion. I find it relatively bizarre that there are so many interpretations of ‘intent’.

    Seems like many people think of intent as a very abstract concept, whereas to me it implies something very specific and deliberate. As in his intent was to get a large drink, and to pay for it with money. Period. I would think the amount of money, type of cup, method of payment, name of the store – what-have-you – are just irrelevant side details, that have no amount of ‘intent’ involved. Maybe I have some Asperger’s going on? Hmmm…

    Regardless: #39 posted by Mr_Voodoo = pure win.

  44. Partly it seems like a question of defining “intent”.

    The way I look at it, there’s no question. Caring about a result doesn’t make it any more or less intentional; if I take an action knowing that it will lead to a result, then I intended the result. Whether the result is the desired effect, or a side-effect you don’t care about one way or the other, I intended all of the foreseeable effects.

    As AGF alluded to above, maybe this is a legalistic definition of intent – if someone rides off on my bike, knowing that someone else will be deprived of it but not caring (he just wants a bike to ride home on), then he intentionally stole it – not caring about the victim doesn’t make the theft less intentional. The only way he could have taken it without intentionally stealing it is if he had a good faith belief that he was not depriving anyone of it, like if he mistook my bike for his own.

  45. What do I have if I thought Joe was an idiot in both scenarios for being dehydrated and not drinking water instead of a thick fruit semi-drink?

  46. Thanks, Bardfinn, that was quite illuminating.

    So, bottom line: there is evidently more than one way to interpet these slushie transactions, depending on your disposition.

    You might say that it´s a case of wether you think that the commemorative cup is half-empty or half-full.

    But what still befuddles me is all these comments that continue to use formal logic to “prove” that this “test” is somehow faulty or broken.
    Isn´t that like trying to agrue that a particular rorschach pattern is broken because you don’t see the same image as someone else does?

  47. Well, I don’t get it at all.

    I want the largest smoothie they have, that’s what I ask for. I didn’t ask what it cost – the clerk should know that if was concerned about the cost, I’d have asked the cost. I don’t care about the cup, either – if I cared about the cup, I’d have asked if they had any commemorative cups laying about. So I’d judge the clerk to be impeding me intentionally. I’d ask one more time for the largest smoothie they have, and if he persisted in annoying me, I’d leave. I’m not that thirsty.

    I just call that not being a sucker. Commemorative cups are for cupboards in houses that have wheels on them.

  48. I should also point out that this is about /intent/ – I see a lot of people here who come to the conclusion of “I do not care about the extra dollar, maybe I have Asperger’s?”. This is beside the point.

    The question is: Do you reflexively react to being offered the extra information about the transaction costing an extra dollar with annoyance? Asperger’s people do. Simple, convenient transactions state the costs explicitly on menus and signs that clearly and conveniently allow the person to weigh their options – or they’ve had a long-established routine of a particular price. They would not throw a changeup like this to someone else on the fly – because it annoys them. The cup is an annoyance too. This is not the way they planned it, this is not the way it has been done before.

    If you merely fail to appreciate the value of a dollar – congratulations, you live in TwentyFirst-Century America, where a dollar buys very little. You may also be fooled by the framing of the question, where it’s “just a dollar more”, as opposed to, say, a 22% price increase.

  49. The question is: Do you reflexively react to being offered the extra information about the transaction costing an extra dollar with annoyance?

    Yes, because that’s not what I asked for. It’s like when I used to smoke and I’d go in the shop for a pack of smokes and the clerk would inform me that ‘smoking kills’. Did I ask that? Did I say, “Please give your opinion about the relative merits and dangers of smoking, you who have risen to your station in life behind thick bulletproof glass making smoothies?”

    Asperger’s people do.


  50. @50, FOURFIVEFIRE:
    If you are seriously dehydrated, you need to replenish your electrolytes. Plain water probably won’t do the trick.

    Also: #39 wins the internets.

  51. from the example given,I would judge that Aspergers people find daily interaction with non-Aspergers people a pain in the ass (from long experience). Hence any change in a routine purchase would be construed as unintentional (DO NOT WANT) regardless of conventional assessments of profit/loss, advantage/disadvantage. If they are indeed unable to see WHY some social interaction formulae give hassle-free results, they can still sure as hell understand when the “safe” formula has changed. What was the question again? Also,why was there not one single two Aspergers’ one cup joke in this thread? What the hell is wrong with you people?

  52. What struck me about these scenarios is how unrealistic they are. Anyone, when informed that the largest size was now a dollar more due to some unwanted cup would ask “Can I get it at the normal price without the stupid cup?”

    If he wasn’t aware of the cup, then why would he care if it was a dollar more?

  53. #39 MR VOODOO

    I’m going to print the study, along with that comment, and file it under happy memories :D

  54. For someone with Asperger’s, when they say “I don’t care if I have to pay an extra dollar …”, it means that they have performed a short-circuit cost-benefit analysis of the commercial exchange and that, in this instance, the extra dollar is irrelevant or trivial.

    I do awful well at the talking to people and manipulating social interactions, so I doubt I’d get a diagnosis of Asperger’s. But, I think this way all the time. And evaluated this test on that basis.

    I want a smoothie, and have already decided that my thirst warrants the largest size available at whatever store I walk into. The smoothie can then cost anywhere between $0.00 and some threshold that I’ve previously (and delicately) worked out for acceptable beverage prices–probably about $10, given that I’m partial to fine beers and those’re beverages. The price is literally and totally immaterial… I’ve already committed to buying one drink-unit at whatever the current market price might be. Telling me the smoothie cost a dollar less yesterday is just as annoying, irrelevant, and irritating as telling me that Captain Jack Sparrow personally kissed the treasure hidden inside. I want the smoothie, and paying money is what I have to do to get that.

  55. People interested in this subject might find Paul Harrison’s blog interesting. He has a theory on Autism that sort applies to Aspies, who are also neuro-atypical. Basically he says that people are Bayesian modellers and that:

    “Autistic people are unusually sensitive to the unusual. Furthermore, their own behavior lacks spontaneous outliers. Autistic people stick to strict routines and their speech is flat and monotonous, or alternatively their behavior and speech is too variable but still lacks outliers. This absence may be what gives rise to an impression of “oddness”. “

    Perhaps this is also true for Aspergers, only less so. Either way the guy is interesting… and seriously smart… and pretty funny too.

  56. #62: I agree totally.

    I do not believe that being annoyed by someone impeding the process of alleviating my thirst by offering unsolicited information in any way indicates the presence of Aspergers, or any other developmental disability or mental health issue for that matter. It simply means that I’m fucking thirsty.

  57. Really just depends on if you’re picky about the language. It doesn’t say that Joe thought it over and decided to pay the extra dollar. Rather, he immediately said he didn’t care. Joe might later say “I didn’t intend to pay extra, but once I was there, I wanted the largest smoothie so I ended up paying extra.”

    Of course, you could try to chalk it up to theory of mind differences (i.e. people with Asperger’s take Joe’s words at face value, other people assume he actually made a decision).

  58. other people assume he actually made a decision

    So it was magic? “I ended up paying extra.” Some magical force made the purchase instead? This claim is similar to that of alcoholics who say some mysterious entity made them drink all that booze.

    Not gonna work. If you reach into your pocket and pay the man, you performed an intentional action. If Joe later says that he didn’t really intend to pay the extra dollar he is lying.

  59. A priest, a rabbi, and an Asperger walk into a smoothie bar …

    Actually, they’re putting us on. It tests nothing means nothing. So you’re reakky thirsty, that’s all; fuck the cup, fuck the buck — gimme the biggest smoothie you got.

    Get a real job, goddamn hippies!

    Empathy: identify.
    Sympathy: imagine.

  60. Does the fact that I had to read that through like 18 times to even begin to see wtf it was about mean I’m a candidate?

    It took me a lot of trying to see that in sating his desire during the second example, and by paying a higher price (as part of intentionally paying for it in the first place rather than passively accepting it in a larger cup), then he is intentionally paying a dollar more.

    I guess. I still barely see it. It’s like one of those Magic Eye books.

  61. #39 mr. voodoo – thanks. you made me laugh out loud!

    @bardfinn – also a thank you. very eloquent posts.

  62. OK so say I thought both actions were unintentional. Where do I go from here to explore whether I have Asperger’s , or some similar condition, or not?

    1. I considered both actions to be unintentional and I definitely do not have Asperger. I wouldn’t worry about it. Unless you have OCD, in which case you probably have no choice but to worry about it.

  63. Goal: Receive largest drink.

    Scenario 1:
    Actor takes no special action, receiving cup is a side effect of satisfying the goal condition.

    Scenario 2:
    Actor is required to take action “pay extra dollar” in order to satisfy goal condition.

    In both cases, the actor has only one goal: to receive the largest drink. The difference in these two scenarios has nothing to do with intention — the intention is identical in both.

  64. I just made this point in the comments for the actual article, but I think it bears repeating here, given some of what I’m reading above.

    -[cut & pasted]-

    Both cases can be boiled down to exactly the same conversation…
    J: I want X.
    C: If you get X then Y will occur.
    J: Y is irrelevant, give me X.

    But… the second one can be interpreted with a differant last line.

    J: Y is acceptable, give me X.

    The differance seems to be that in case 1 the cup is universally considered irrelevant to the decision making process. I think that in case 2 the “normals” are assuming that Joe is factoring the cost into the equation, and, in effect, making a new decision at that moment, while the asperger’s folks are assuming that he’s ignoring it as irrelevant.

    I would also go out on a limb and suggest it’s because people tend to assume others follow the same decision-making process that they use themselves.

  65. The language needs to be tightened up, and then debate will cease.

    There is weaseling going on here between:

    1) “Intentionally” = with a goal-seeking mindset.
    2) “Intentionally” = willingly.

    In both scenarios he did not have (1)–all he had that for was thirst slaking. It was not his goal to gain a special cup or shed an extra dollar.

    And in both scenarios he did have (2)–he was willing to drink from whatever goofy cup they gave him, and willing to pony up another buck. Both these could have been otherwise, had the cup been somehow offensive to him or the new smoothie price been now too high. But neither was so.

    If we re-write the questions with this more precise language, the questions become:

    Did Joe obtain the commemorative cup with a goal-seeking mindset? (No.)

    Did Joe pay one dollar more with a goal seeking mindset? (No.)

    Did Joe willingly obtain the commemorative cup? (Yes.)

    Did Joe willingly pay one dollar more? (Yes.)

  66. Couldn’t any of these symptoms described here apply to anyone?

    Wouldn’t some new decision that you have to make be seen as an obstacle?

    And, when dealing with smaller transactions, I probably wouldn’t really think too much about the difference of a dollar, I have already committed to buying the smoothie, and unless the clerk gives me some absurd price, like $50, I will probably just give him the money, without really considering it.

    And wouldn’t anyone?
    Would anyone actually try to factor out their whole budget on the spot?
    Of course not, unless you were really short on cash, you would discard that information and hand the clerk the money.

  67. Illuminating, especially Bardfinn.

    As far as I can tell I’m an undiagnosed Aspie, and discussions like these always seem to crack another door just a little bit open to me understanding the gulf ‘tween myself those within society’s Standard Deviation.

    ‘Course I rather like being on the fringe of the bell curve.

    I can kinda see the logic both ways, but my initial gut reaction was: both unintentional. And while I follow everyone’s logical arguments, though they differ, the real knowledge gems for me are the “no-no-no, see, there’s this social subtext thing that’s usually going on, and this is how it goes…” descriptions.

    The annoyance factor is pretty mild for me, but since it was brought up, it made me introspective again. There are bad-mood days where I’ve wanted to slap the poor muggle who’s required to ask “do you want fries with that?” right through the speakerbox. But I don’t. Cuz that would hurt. And the nice young men in the plain white coats would come to take me away.


    Been far too long to cite my sources, but I’ve heard (read?) Asperger’s called “the geeks’ disease” (or similar), and also that aspies most frequently empathize (tho it sounds an oxymoron) with Mr. Spock and Data. Not meant pejoratively at all, and like so many here, I’ve embraced the Geek label with pride. I don’t think we’ve learned formal logic like some “stupid human trick” quixotically acquired early, but rather that we’re simply hardwired for that analytical approach. Formality comes later, like a born artist taking a “theory of color” class.

    A few milestones for me in self-discovery at various ages include: learning that not everyone thinks in hologram. Apparently my half-sister can’t conjure one at all. Also: “cliche level communication” from a college level speech class. (You mean when the clerk asks me how I am, they don’t really mean it? How odd…)

    I always welcome more.

  68. I ~was~ going to argue that my thinking that there was no intent in either case did ~not~ mark me out as Aspergery. But now I’m wondering whether I should throw in the towel – having learned to sing “They’re coming to take me away haha”, including the backwards bits, at a very young age. Thank godâ„¢ for my x-chromosome.

  69. Thanks badger that’s the sanest explanation of the lot.

    Reminds me of a maxim oft quoted by Robert Anton Wilson (mostly in connection with e-prime):

    “These people don’t know how to use language properly.”

    (one day I will create an account here I swear.)

  70. @Bardfinn: that’s spot on. I don’t think I have Asperger’s, because I’m seeing a psych for anxiety and I’m sure she would have picked it up if I did, but I felt that every word in those explanations described me.

  71. The only reason that this question is considered valid is that most ‘normal’ people value a dollar more than print on a cup.

    If the guy was a frivolous billionaire who collects commemorative cups for a hobby the situation would be considered different. We don’t know. All we do know is that it states that he didn’t care.

    Consider this.

    Man on battlefield has his leg blown off, is bleeding to death and has seconds to live. Medic says you can have a bandage but its gotta be in blue. Or medic says you can have a bandage but it costs a dollar.

    Now how many people think that he intentionally wanted the blue one or intentionally wanted to pay for it ?

    Depending on the interpretation of language either both or none but in that situation its really hard to see how they are different.

    Framed in that language I think most ‘normal’ people would say he didn’t intend to pay for it.

  72. This is fascinating, because in learning the criminal law (in England) we are taught there “intention” has a specific meaning which is somewhat different to its natural meaning (and ixs the subject of constant debate).

    The natural meaning seems to relate to whether the ting is done with a specific goal in mind. The legal meaning, however, focuses on whether what results is the natural consequence of the doer’s actions.

    See for a discussion of this.

    I’d say that scenario 1 was unintentional, but scenario 2 was intentional, using the natural meaning of the word. However, from a legal perspective, both acts are intentional.

  73. A few flaws in the scenario: First of all, the smoothista (or whatever s/he is called) has been told by management to upsell every. single. customer. Therefore, Joe’d be “invited to purchase” the current promotional item, even if it’s an uber-dorky High School Musical 3 Light-Up Super-Cup and he doesn’t look like he’d fit the target demographic. Secondly, spending an extra dollar is good for business, and the smoothista would never frame an upsell as a negative, unless Joe was dressed in an Old Brewery Mission t-shirt and using a baggie full of small change as his wallet.

    BTW, I am borderline Aspie, and would rather drink a Diet Coke as a thirst-quencher than a smoothie. Go figure!

  74. That’s one big thread. I bet you’ve all been Aspergered sufficiently…

    Anyway, I went through a quite comprehensive test a couple of years back and scored somewhat high, but that score was an average of a lot of zeros and whatever the top was. In the end I’d say it was pretty meaningless.

    As people have been pointing out, it would be quite easy to be diagnosed with Asperger…

    At least it doesn’t lead to an endless prescribed pharma binge…yet. That’s until Pfitzer and/or friends comes up with just the right thing for you…

  75. I wish this was a better study. It’s pretty scary to see people (apparently) seriously applying the results to themselves. The study is based on a grand total of 40 people — just 14 with Asperger’s. And the study consisted of only the two questions listed, with nothing to control for wording. And the questions that were actually asked were French translations; the originals in English came from an earlier, non-Asperger’s-related study.

  76. In the “Asperger’s” version of events, Joe INTENDED top get a drink in the largest cup that it usually comes in, for the usual price. When he ended up with either a) an unusual cup or b) being told he had to pay a dollar more, he got an UNINTENDED result either way.

    In the “non-Asperger’s” version of events, Joe INTENDED top get a drink in the largest cup that it usually comes in, for the usual price. When he ended up with that cup (albeit a commemorative version about which he didn’t care) at that price, he got the INTENDED result. When told he had to pay a dollar more for that cup, he got an UNINTENDED result.

    The “Asperger’s” expectation was more detail-oriented. The mundane expectation simply discounted the unintended detail he didn’t care about.

  77. Elnico:

    It was actually a relatively long process for me to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

    The start:

    I had been referred to a psychiatrist for evaluation of mild depression, and he ran a standard perceptual screen by pointing to the clock over his door and asking me what time it was.

    I didn’t look at him, I didn’t look where he was pointing, I didn’t look at that clock. I told him what time it was from the clock /in my head/ and then – without looking – advised him that the clock over the door was two minutes slow and the one on his desk had not been adjusted for daylight savings time, and was seventeen seconds fast.

    That, as you may guess, was somewhat telling. Mannerisms, mental models, mental feats, and model obsession.

    The battery of tests that I was put through were designed to rule out other possibilities, as Asperger’s Syndrome is what is called a “negative diagnosis” – it is (or perhaps only was) made in the absence of other clinical diagnoses. The tests and interviews also probed the mental history of my blood relatives, previous psychotherapy case notes, school records, and the extent to which the syndrome affected my life.

    By the time I had was diagnosed, I was 25, and the diagnosis had only been officially on the books for seven years – 1993, the year I turned eighteen. Any and all help I might have received – or recognition or accommodation – would have been helpful when I was younger. I had already learned to cope with mainstream human society fairly well by that point.

    There are no drugs that “help”. There’s nothing that makes me, or anyone with Asperger’s or an autistic-spectrum syndrome more-like-the-majority.

    If you think you or someone you know have Asperger’s, or an autism-spectrum syndrome, seek out a psychiatrist. Many people exhibit some symptoms or behaviours – but only a psychiatrist can make the diagnosis.

  78. I don’t understand either response. Both were clearly intentional, because he knew about and accepted them. He may not have PREVIOUSLY intended either, but after having the situation explained and then accepting it, his intention changed.

    The only way either situation could be unintentional is if the cashier didn’t explain before selling him the drink. Even then he has a moment of choice when presented with the tab/cup and must accept the situation in order to take the drink.

    Anyway, why is he getting a smoothie when he’s super thirsty? A less viscous liquid would be more refreshing, surely. I think that is the real issue here.

  79. “think in hologram”? heard someone the other day talking about the “gift” of dyslexia. Seeing/processing two dimensional text in three was mentioned. With the advent of cheap, ubiquitous social interaction over the last decade via the web, I see many autism-spectrum people freely speaking out (or maybe I wasn’t paying attention before). I fully expect some giant leaps in our understanding soon.

  80. this is stupid. the dude was thirsty. regardless of the price change or added FREE commemorative cup, he was THAT thirsty. this is a horrible example.

    how about… did Joe intentionally pay an extra $5 for a pair of boots. see, his THIRST doesn’t dictate that. THIRST leads to dehydration which can lead to DEATH. the dude was THIRSTY. leave him alone.

    perhaps the girl offering him all the extra junk is at fault for pushing unnecessary garbage on Joe. if she never brought it up he would have walked out with the BIGGEST DRINK and been none-the-wiser.

    yeah, i call bullshit.

  81. The only way either situation could be unintentional is if the cashier didn’t explain before selling him the drink. Even then he has a moment of choice when presented with the tab/cup and must accept the situation in order to take the drink.

    Maybe this whole flurry of confusion is due to the fact that we might not define ‘intentional’ the same way.

    Intention- 1. A course of action that one intends to follow.
    2. An aim that guides action; an objective.

    If this is based on objective, the guy’s intention was to buy the largest drink. It did not change when faced with the cup option or extra dollar option. Legally (or socially, I guess) he takes responsibility for paying the appropriate price for the drink, but I see no indication that it is personally relevant to the guy at that moment. If he hesitated or complained about the extra dollar, then I could see how his decision-making process is altered. Or if his intention was stated as wanting the largest, cheapest drink.

    I see the two situations as portraying an educated choice. The buyer is informed about the cup and/or dollar. However, his intention (based on the above definition) remains the same.

    I’m not arguing anything, I see that the other explanations are very sensible. But that’s exactly how I interpret it and I seriously doubt I have Aspergers.

  82. After reading the blog here I went to the Psychology Today site, read that story and comments, then the comments here. I posted as PT, then wrote a blog on the topic, Seeking to be Normal is Madness and now I am posting here.
    First, to all those who hve been diagnosed or suspect they have Asperger’s a hearty congratulations. You are extraordinary. You have high intelligence and can achieve great things. Be glad and proud!
    Next, the advice to visit psychiatrists or psychologists to discover if one has Asperger’s since the diagnosis is only a negative one and there is no “cure” or medical “relief” available is silly at best. What will be accomplished except the information that a so called expert thinks you are not normal. If you have the ultra high intelligence necessary for achieving Asperger’s syndrome, then by definition you are not normal and as one comment puts it, “at the fringes of the bell curve”. Rejoice.
    It is true that Asperger’s people have difficulty with others who use their emotions to manipulate or have little emotional control. Isn’t the rational choice to remove oneself from these “normal” individuals? How does one effectively deal with someone who makes decisions based on emotional reactions?
    As for the study — it is clearly flawed from the onset. The word “intention” is not defined. The extra dollar is too insignificant to be valuable as a component for most people today.
    Plus as an aside, the clerk needs to be fired. If you have a sale– you take the money! Who instructed the numnut clerk to give all the extra unwanted info that could end the sale or result in a sale for a smaller amount? Where is the manager of the smoothie store?
    The study money would be better spent on probing the clerk’s intentions and reasons for possibly blocking or decreasing the sale. Why would a “normal” person do that?!
    Once again, to all the super intelligent, rational, and seeking to be extraordinary folks out there, a big shout out! Thanks for not being normal or buying into the self-serving idea of second tier minds that anyone should aim at such a fate.

  83. Unless I missed a comment, I think I have a different reason for agreeing with the non-aspie judgment.

    Joe gets the cup because of something the cashier does. Joe’s actions would not change at all based on whether or not the cashier gives him the extra cup.

    Paying an extra dollar is something that Joe does. It doesn’t make any sense to say that he pulled the extra dollar out of his wallet by accident, so he must have done it intentionally.

    And yes, my judgment would change to “both unintentional” if I knew that Joe had paid with a $20 bill and didn’t care how much change he was getting back.

  84. It seems to me that all the folks who are decrying this as a bad test for Aspberger’s or who are saying that “intent” need to be defined could use a little lesson in reading comprehension.

    The article is not about a new test for Aspberger’s. It is about an observation that author has made about how people with Aspberger’s judge intentionality. Whether you happen to have a similar reaction to this one “probe” from the test is not an Aspberger’s diagnosis. Clearly.

    Second, perhaps the title of the article will help all the folks crying foul about the bad scientist who did not offer a scientific definition of intent: “The Folk Concept of Intentional Action: Philosophical and Experimental Issues”


  85. According to the detailed quiz (linked to by Lesbianjesus in #95):

    “Your Aspie score: 131 of 200
    Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 71 of 200
    You are very likely an Aspie”

    I note immediately that my scores add up to 202, not the stated 200.

    Crap. Maybe it’s true.

  86. #100- It is true that Asperger’s people have difficulty with others who use their emotions to manipulate or have little emotional control.


    At least we know for sure who doesn’t have Aspergers.

    Really, the only thing I am tempted to cry foul about is this statement:

    You surely think that paying an extra dollar was intentional, while getting the commemorative cup was not. So do most people

    Anyone who state you surely think is bound to get a few raised eyebrows. And considering that an impressive number of commenters are told by this article that they don’t think like most people, it is only normal that we want to poke at it and take it apart.

  87. Thank you all for participating in an involuntary survey intending to gauge the population of BBs readership suffering from aspergers/autism

  88. Since one was, “to get X you have to take Y”, and the other was, “to get X you have to give Z” (i.e. it has a cost), I can see why one would distinguish the intentionality of the two events, but in a completely logical sense, they are both unintentional, in that he went in wanting a large drink, and didn’t give much thought to the details about getting it. I suppose if you were an extreme “commemorative cup hater”, you might consider it a cost to get one, and try to avoid it. I can’t imagine it.

  89. “plane takes off.”

    Only if the conveyor belt fails to move the plane backward at the same rate the plane’s engines move it forward (which happens if the conveyor belt does not accelerate sufficiently to keep up with the engines’ forward thrust as it overcomes inertial resistance).

    Now ask me about AGW.

  90. AGW is overstated for political gain.

    While certain effects in the local climate are directly attributable to human industry, global climate is the result of global processes, which exclude your neighbour’s SUV.

    That being said, we still need to clean up our nests because it’s not right to live in our own filth. And we need to get off oil and onto cleaner, more abundant and better-distributed energy sources.

    Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! Repeat.

  91. almost correct: global warming is STATED for political gain. Never, ever, ever lose sight of the fact that anyone who volunteers to run things is a suspect sonnaofabitch and NOT to be trusted. Any politico has long since sold their soul to even be talking to you, never mind thinking and acting. The normal human fear we feel about the death of our planet is just another lever for them. They don’t look at climate graphs, they study polls. ALL of them.

  92. What with this and the previous black and white marble fiasco, perhaps BB ought to leave the psychology papers alone for a while. He was thirsty, his intention was to get the biggest drink he could, which he did. If he’d had to put out a fire before being given the drink that, too, would have been incidental to his first purpose.

  93. I scored ‘non aspie’ on this one. Could it be down to the ability to concentrate on a task?

    The aspie Joe would have kept his focus on quenching his thirst and all later choices would have been secondary. The ‘normal’ Joe would, like myself, be thrown off guard by the extra cost and now find himself in a new situation where his personal finances had to be considered.
    Could this explain/prove that ‘normals’ have a shorter attention span than aspies?

  94. Just give me the biggest drink you’ve got…

    gosh, this is one of those really stupid made up scenarios…

    I personally think the biggest weirdos are the psychologists who make these stupid exercises up…

  95. I finally took the test and ended up in a gun fight with these black suited people who came to my door.

  96. The guy wants the biggest smoothie available, not the most economic. The price and the cup design is irrelevant. His intention is to get a giant smoothie, consequences be damned.

  97. Intentional or not, boy’s gonna get scrotum-tightening brain-freeze by picking a smoothie to quench strong thirst.

  98. @40

    inboulder: Considering that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome are the people who left your SAT scores in the dust, ”

    I know you’re trying to make a point, but you’ve picked a catastrophically ineffective insult; the best they could do is tie.

    who got scholarships based on academic excellence, who went on to design the infrastructure of the Internet and the devices that access it: I’m sorry, brain damage what?

    Look into the research, ‘Asperger’s’ is not even correlated with high intelligence, those with high intelligence, and Asperger’s, achieve in spite of it.

  99. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the problem as presented above. I haven’t read the fine paper, but if this is accurate, well I’ll be buying my philosophy somewhere else thanks.

    I believe the problem we have here is one of semantics – the use of the term intention in two senses at different times. One sense is that of – was the act the one the participant sought to undertake deliberately. As presented, the actor’s intention at the start was to purchase the largest smoothie.

    The other sense in which the term intend is being used is that of “Were the actions undertaken conscious or unconscious ?” Clearly, the act of obtaining the cup/paying the extra dollar was a conscious one – the actor was aware of them prior to acting. However, there is no suggestion that his/her action was their intention at the start of the scenario.

    To make this distinction plainer, consider playing golf. I arrive, ready to tee-off, and notice another player some distance down the fairway. However, being supremely confident in my abilities, I decide I can drive to the other side of the fairway without endangering the other player.

    Alas, my abilities are not what I thought them to be – I indeed slice the ball and hit the other player. Was this a conscious act ? Yes. Did I intend it ? No.

    If the author is going to start using words like intend as loosely as this, then I fear the paper probably doesn;t have a great deal to recommend it (but I may be wrong). It certianly doesn’t say a great deal about the Asperger’s / neurotypical divide.

  100. PurpleWyrm @38: c) I have Aspergers, but I’m also a cheapskate :)

    I vote for c and welcome you to the club. ;)

  101. Like Mr. Machery, the author of this paper, I am also a blogger on Psychology Today. As a person with Asperger’s, I thought that results of the study were interesting, but I contest Machery’s conclusion that the difference in responses from people with Asperger’s proves that we don’t understand intention. I think that the cases are ambiguously worded. This may not be an issue for someone not on the spectrum, but aspies are extremely specific in how we use language.

    For my full analysis as to why I believe the different responses came about, visit my blog on Psychology Today at:

    An excerpt is below:

    “The majority of those not on the spectrum judged that Joe’s actions in the Extra-Dollar Case were intentional, but his actions described in the Free Cup Case were not. Those with Asperger’s judged that both actions were not intentional. Mr. Machery’s conclusion is that this demonstrates that those with Asperger’s have impaired abilities to judge whether these actions were intentional.

    I argue not. I argue that the difference in reaction can be traced to the logical, literal and precise way that those with Asperger’s comprehend and use language.

    My reaction upon first reading these two cases was to ask, “How do you define intentional?” Like many on the autism spectrum, I default to the dictionary definition to determine the meanings of words. The Miriam Webster dictionary defines the verb intend as “to have in mind as a purpose or goal.” Joe’s goal was made quite clear in the first sentence of each case – to obtain the largest size drink available.

    He walked in to the store not thinking, “I think I’ll get a free commemorative cup.” or “I think I’ll spend an dollar more on this drink than I did last time,” but “I’m feeling quite dehydrated, so I’m going to buy the largest size beverage available to quench my thirst.” Therefore, his intention is to obtain the Mega-Sized Smoothie. Within this frame of reference, the commemorative cup was merely a nice surprise, and the extra dollar was simply a means to an end, that end being the purchase of the Mega-Sized Smoothie.

    Now, if you were to redefine “intention” in this case as “Making a conscious decision to follow a certain path to achieve a stated goal” – or, “Did he mean to do it?” – then you would likely receive the same response from a person with Asperger’s as you would from any other person. As previously stated, Joe’s goal is to obtain the smoothie. In the first case, the commemorative cup is a side effect over which he has no control, so obtaining it is not intentional. However, in the second case, he must overcome an obstacle to obtaining his goal – the extra dollar. He must make a conscious decision to pay the additional dollar in order to be successful in achieving the goal. By the “conscious decision” model, you would respond that the extra dollar is intentional, even though it was not his goal as he walked through the door.

    It’s all in how you phrase the question.”

    Mr. Machery’s response:

    “Dear Lynne,

    Thanks for this post. I acknowledge that there are several possible explanations f the difference we found between people with and without AS. Clearly, much more research is needed. It is indeed possible that pragmatics may be the place to look at.

    But still, you write: “Within this frame of reference, the commemorative cup was merely a nice surprise, and the extra dollar was simply a means to an end, that end being the purchase of the Mega-Sized Smoothie.”

    Now the crucial point is that when an action is a means for something else, most people think that it is done intentionally. Here is an example: You want to enter a room, and to do so, you need to open the door. You open the door and enter the room. Did you intentionally open the door? Absolutely, since it was a means for your goal (entering the room) and since you had foreseen this.

    So, even under your first interpretation of the extra-dollar case, most people without AS would say that paying the extra-dollar was intentional, precisely because it is a means.

    In any case, thanks for your post.


    The below is my response:

    “My point in writing the article is not to dispute that there is a difference in response, but to dispute the reasoning behind why the difference exists.

    My belief is that people with Asperger’s are much more literal, and specific about language. You can see this play out in the many comments on both your blog entry, and comments on this entry. In many of the comments, the self-identified respondents with Asperger’s asked the same question I did. What do you mean by intent? How are you defining it?

    This is not because we do not understand the concept of intent, but because we are much more granular and specific as to how we use language. How we define words, or even requests, are very specific. Anyone who has an Aspie coworker, spouse, or child has experienced this phenomenon.

    Non-AS person – “Is the bathroom clean?”
    AS person – “How do you define clean? I’ve brushed the toilet, scrubbed the shower, and cleaned the mirrors and floors. However, I did not clean the dust off the light bulbs, or scrub the grout with a toothbrush. Does that count as clean?”

    Parent – “Have you finished your dinner?”
    AS child – “Well, I’ve eaten 95% of the food on my plate. I’m not hungry anymore and don’t plan to eat the rest. Does that mean I’m finished?”

    The same sort of precision is in practice here. The way in which the word “intent” is used in the cases could be interpreted in more than one way, depending on the time frame you are focusing on. This triggers the difference in response – those with Asperger’s use a more restricted definition of intention in this case than do those who do not have Asperger’s. This restricted definition is the literal definition of intention (goal or original intent).

    The people with Asperger’s first instinct is to ask, “How are you defining intent?” In absence of any specifications, they use the dictionary definition, which puts the focus on the character’s original intent. What was Joe intending to do when he walked into the store? What did he imagine himself doing? What steps did he plan in his mind? Unless he was psychic (or there were advertising flyers in the window), he could not have known prior to entering the store that the store had begun charging an extra dollar, or that they had begun offering a commemorative cup. Therefore, those things could not have been his original intention before entering the store. And, to back this up, the case states specifically that his goal prior to entering the store was to purchase the largest smoothie, so determining his original intent is a no brainer. In this definition, intention=original goal, and is defined by what the character knew at the point of making his original decision to buy the smoothie. He did not stand in the door thinking, “I think I’ll spend an extra dollar for the smoothie I want.” because he did not know at that point that the store had raised the price.

    The second, wider definition deals with conscious decision. What actions did he actually make a choice to undertake in accomplishing his goal/task to obtain the smoothie? While the first definition deals with what the character knew prior to undertaking the action to obtain the smoothie, in this definition the time frame is immaterial. In this definition, did he intend to pay the extra dollar? Well, the extra dollar didn’t jump out of his pocket into the clerk’s hand. He made a choice to pay that amount. In the moment that he made the decision to give the dollar, paying the dollar became his intent in that moment (not his original intent, but a supporting action in carrying out the original intent ). As the commenter wrongshoes pointed out, by this definition, the commemorative cup could be interpreted as being intentional depending on the weight you put on it. If you hate, or have a phobia regarding commemorative cups (or are afraid you won’t throw it away), then you also have to make a conscious choice whether to take it or not. If you attach no weight to the commemorative cup, then you don’t have to make a conscious decision to whether you want to take it – it just comes with the drink, and it is unintentional.

    Those with Asperger’s can use both definitions of intention – it’s simply a question of application.

    Another concept you call out with your example of entering a room is the concept of “foreseeable action.” In your example of entering a room, I would argue that, yes, opening the door is intentional, because it is reasonable (in fact common sense) to assume that if you are going to enter a room that you would have to open the door. This example is not an apples to apples comparison with either case at issue here, because both conditions (the commemorative cup, the extra dollar) are not steps that one would define as being part of a generic process of obtaining a smoothie.

    If you were to map out the process that Joe probably mapped out in his head prior to entering the store, it would probably go something like this:

    1. Joe decides to buy smoothie
    2. Joe enters store
    3. Joe orders the smoothie
    4. Joe pays for the smoothie
    5. Joe leaves the store
    6. Joe drinks the smoothie
    7. Joe is no longer thirsty and dehydrated

    If you have frequented this store regularly, are familiar with the cups they provide, and the cost of the smoothie, you are likely not going expect a change in these conditions, therefore a person would not look at this as a normal step in obtaining a smoothie. If, however, you asked, “Did Joe intentionally enter the store?” or “Did Joe intentionally hand the clerk money?” – it would be reasonable to say yes. These are routine, foreseeable steps in the process of obtaining the smoothie, and the intention to buy the smoothie implies the intention to carry out these supporting steps.

    The fact that you indicate that previous studies have shown that those with Asperger’s responded similarly to those without Asperger’s in similar experiments also bolsters the idea that it is the differences in interpreting the wording of the case that causes issue, not understanding of intention. “As we noted earlier, Zalla (submitted) found that in some contexts, the judgments about intentionality made by people with Asperger Syndrome are identical to the judgments made by people with typical development.”

    You also note that, “Individuals with Asperger Syndrome who were presented with Knobe’s help and harm cases (see Section 1) judged that the agent intentionally harmed the environment, while judging that he did not intentionally help the environment, just like comparison participants do (Zalla, submitted).” Given that these cases present a more complicated model of intention (because they also introduce the factor of morality into the mix, where the Extra Dollar Case and the Free Cup Case were overwhelmingly judged as neutral) – this would seem to further support that those with Asperger’s grasp the idea of intention.


    Lynne Soraya”

  102. Well, according to #98’s quiz, I’m likely an Aspie.

    @The Unusual Suspect

    Mine was 130 of 200 and 79 of 200… yet again, not 200. I’m thinking I may have left two or three questions as ‘?’, which might account for the extra points.

  103. I must be an uber-Aspie or something, then, because I can’t even figure out why ANYONE would notice a difference between those two, nor notice the events to begin with, nor care. Strange strange strange examples.

    Of course, I’ve long known I’m an Aspie.

  104. Wow, I shoulda followed this thread more closely, but..

    @ #85 SHEDSIDE:

    My internal OS, if you will, is entirely visual. When I’m pondering the shapes of things in order to fix something, or to draw a good representation, I understand the forms in 3D, with color, motion and sound (as needed).

    It’s like built-in SolidWorks(tm). Or the Trek universe’s Holodeck.

    Processing written language takes a large amount of energy for me, relatively speaking. The printed word is no longer sounded out letter by letter, but does get converted to internal audio. From that form it references a concept, manifested visually, and that brings understanding. After 32 years this is all very quick, but when I’m brought to wonder how, exactly, I process things, I can break it down like a high-speed camera watching a gun going off.

    Sometimes the visuals are mathematical, like Venn diagrams or trend graphs or wave-forms, sometimes they’re iconic clips from popular media or my personal experiences, sometimes it’s a bit like an abstract painting (like some emotions).

    When my sister found out I think in pictures, she was baffled, and asked “Wouldn’t that be terribly distracting?” And I’m left wondering how the hell thinking goes on in the absence of visual processing.

  105. BTW, on that Aspie quiz:

    132/200 Aspie
    65/200 NT
    “Very Likely Aspie.”

    I think it’s possible to score 200/200 on both if you just answer “Yes/Often” to everything. But then you would get some kind of invalid score judgement.

    What is “Aspie Hunting” and “NT Hunting” anyways?

  106. “Before ordering, the cashier told him that the Mega-Sized Smoothies were now one dollar more than they used to be. Joe replied, ‘I don’t care if I have to pay one dollar more, I just want the biggest smoothie you have.”

    Any judgement on Joe’s part (or on the part of a AS, presumably placing themselves in Joe’s position) would come after the fact and likely be rationalization. A primary marker of AS is restricted and repetitive behavior. These are conducted without regard for moral or other considerations. If given the first story and producing an answer, an AS is likely to produce the same answer to the second out of sheer perseveration, and being typically high cognitive functioning, are capable of producing a reasonable rationalization if and when they are asked why.

    Methodologically, the study is forcing an answer without differentiating between that answer and the stereotypy common to AS. People with AS are likely to act based more on habit and less on judgement than non-AS.

    Dr Dennis McClain-Furmanski PhD

  107. The test under discussion DOES read like something extracted from the Voigt-Kampff test in ‘Bladerunner’. *Leaves an origami unicorn for Mr Voodoo #39*.

  108. Regardless of the implications/questions surrounding this test, how awesome is the notion of an “experimental philosopher”?!

Comments are closed.