The Social Motivation Theory of Autism is a theory that suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) lack the typical motivation to engage in social interactions. This theory was introduced by Chevallier and colleagues in 2012, and it has since gained traction in the field of autism research.

What is Social Motivation?

Social motivation refers to the drive or desire to engage in social interactions with others. This can include seeking out social situations, responding appropriately to social cues, and experiencing pleasure or satisfaction from social interactions. For most people, social motivation comes naturally and is an important aspect of daily life.

How Does Social Motivation Apply to Autism?

According to the Social Motivation Theory of Autism, individuals with ASD have a reduced level of social motivation compared to neurotypical individuals. This means that they may not seek out social interaction as often, may not respond appropriately to social cues or may not experience pleasure from social interaction.

The Role of Reward

One proposed explanation for reduced social motivation in autism is related to the role of reward. In neurotypical individuals, social interactions are often rewarding, which leads to an increased desire for these interactions.

However, for individuals with ASD, social interactions may not be as rewarding or even be perceived as aversive. As a result, they may not seek out these types of interactions.

The Impact on Social Development

Reduced social motivation can have a significant impact on an individual’s development and ability to form relationships. Social interaction is critical for developing important skills like communication and emotional regulation. Without adequate opportunities for these types of interactions, individuals with ASD may struggle in these areas.

How Can We Address Reduced Social Motivation?

While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, there are several therapies and interventions that can help address reduced social motivation. One such therapy is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which can help individuals with ASD learn social skills and increase their motivation for social interaction.


The Social Motivation Theory of Autism is an important concept in understanding the challenges faced by individuals with ASD. By recognizing and addressing reduced social motivation, we can help these individuals develop important skills and improve their quality of life.