Xilenia Carreras – Agency: Minimal Self and Narrative Self. A Discussion Based on Empirical Evidence in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Agency: Minimal Self and Narrative Self. A Discussion Based on Empirical Evidence in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – Xilenia Carreras  (University of Cordoba)


Agency is the ability to feel responsible for our actions and there is a growing tendency to distinguish levels within it: current agency and long-term agency (Pacherie: 2000), agency and narrative identity (De Vignemont, 2002), minimal self and narrative self (Gallagher, 2000): which seems to show that there are low-level skills associated with a minimal sense of agency, anchored in corporeal, non-reflexive experiences and more complex narrative-type skills that make up an extended sense of self: the narrative self. Some authors suggest that in the case of autism there was an alteration of the agency experience. Autism or A.S.D. (autism spectrum disorder) is a neurobiological condition characterized by alterations in communication and social interaction and the presence of restricted interests and stereotyped behaviors (DSMV).

In this paper, we will analyze capacities associated with the agency in a minimum sense, such as the ability to distinguish self-induced movements from those that are not based on the results obtained in empirical tests. We will also analyze conceptions about the narrative self in children with typical development (T.D) and children with ASD between 8 and 12 years old with the objective of discussing the relationship between both levels of agency:  minimal self  and narrative self and what kind of alterations we found in the population with autism. We will start from a classic experiment by Phillips, Baron Cohen & Rutter (1998), about the distinction between results obtained according to what is intended and according to chance. Then, we will analyze the results of two empirical tests created by ourselves about the distinction I did it versus another agent did (recognition of agency) and to distinguish movements initiated by the agent himself versus the computer (instigation: using the Finding-bug I and Finding-bug II test). Finally, we will analyze the different conceptions about the self and the personal identity from the analysis of micro-reports and semi-structured interviews.

While Philiphs, Baron Cohen  & Rutter (1998) found difficulties in the population with autism in differentiating results obtained according to what was intended versus by chance, our results, in rather simple tests like the minimal distinction I did it versus another agent did, do not seem to indicate differences in performance  between children with and without autism but yes in the instigation test (Finding-bug I and Finding-bug II).  Also, we find differences in narrative styles. Children with T.D. present in richer stories, more details, and references to themselves, and ways of projecting themselves in time, and amount of spontaneous memories evocation. In the group A.S.D. we find fewer references to themselves, scant emotional descriptions and stereotyped accounts. It is possible that the alterations of the agency for the case of autism are preserved in one sense (for example in the distinguish about me versus another person) but not in another (for example about instigation) and it is possible to find more evident fails in what has been called narrative identity or narrative self.

Key words: minimal self/ agency/ narrative self/ autism


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