A cybernetic theory of autism: Autism as a consequence of low trait plasticity

Matthew A. Rogers, Jed T. Elison, Scott D Blain, Colin G. DeYoung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: According to Cybernetic Big Five Theory (CB5T), personality traits reflect variation in the parameters of evolved cybernetic mechanisms, and extreme manifestations of these traits correspond to a risk for psychopathology because they threaten the organism's ability to pursue its goals effectively. Our theory of autism as a consequence of low Plasticity extends CB5T to provide a cybernetic account of the origin of autistic traits. The theory argues that, because all psychological competencies are initially developed through exploration, typical development requires sensitivity to the incentive reward value of the unknown (i.e., the unpredicted). According to CB5T, motivation to explore the unknown is the core function underlying the metatrait Plasticity, the shared variance of Extraversion and Openness/Intellect. This theory makes predictions regarding the downstream developmental consequences of early low Plasticity, and each prediction maps well onto autistic symptomatology. Method: We surveyed 387 people. Measures included the Autism Quotient (AQ) scale and International Personality Item Pool items that are indicators of Plasticity and Stability. Results: The association between AQ and Plasticity was β = −.64. Conclusion: A strong negative correlation between Plasticity and AQ suggests ASD may be closely linked to a low sensitivity to the incentive reward value of the unknown.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1035-1050
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of personality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data collection was funded by the psychology department at the University of Minnesota.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • CB5T
  • autism
  • cybernetics
  • heterogeneity
  • metatraits
  • plasticity

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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