Adults with autism spectrum disorder show atypical patterns of thoughts and feelings during rest

Sonja Simpraga, Ricarda F. Weiland, Huibert D. Mansvelder, Tinca J. C. Polderman, Sander Begeer, Dirk J. A. Smit, Klaus Linkenkaer-Hansen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Mind wandering constitutes a major part of everyday experience and is inherently related to how we feel and identify ourselves. Thus, probing the character and content of thoughts and feelings experienced during mind-wandering episodes could lead to a better understanding of the human mind in health and disease. How mind wandering and spontaneous thought processes are affected in disorders such as autism is poorly understood. Here, we used the eyes-closed rest condition to stimulate mind wandering and quantified the subjective experiences using the Amsterdam Resting-State Questionnaire—which quantifies subjective psychological states of resting-state cognition across 10 domains—in 88 adults with autism spectrum disorder and 90 controls. We observed an atypical pattern of both thoughts and feelings in the autism spectrum disorder cohort, specifically in the domains of Theory of Mind, Comfort, and Discontinuity of Mind. We propose that the use of the Amsterdam Resting-State Questionnaire as a standardized cognitive instrument could advance our understanding of thoughts and feelings in autism spectrum disorder as well as in a wide variety of other brain disorders and how these may change due to therapeutic interventions. Lay abstract: Everyone knows the feeling of letting one’s mind wander freely in a quiet moment. The thoughts and feelings experienced in those moments have been shown to influence our well-being—and vice versa. In this study, we looked at which thoughts and feelings are being experienced by adults with autism spectrum disorder and compared them to adults without autism spectrum disorder. In total, 88 adults with autism spectrum disorder and 90 adults without autism spectrum disorder were asked to rest for 5 min with their eyes closed and let their mind wander. Directly after, they filled in the Amsterdam Resting-State Questionnaire, which probes what participants were feeling and thinking during the period of rest. We found that adults with autism spectrum disorder tend to think less about others, felt less comfortable, and had more disrupted thoughts during the rest compared to adults without autism spectrum disorder. Interestingly, autism spectrum disorder participants reporting lower levels of comfort during the rest also reported more autism spectrum disorder symptoms, specifically in social behaviors and skills, attention switching, and imagination. We propose to use the eyes-closed rest condition in combination with the Amsterdam Resting-State Questionnaire more widely to shed light on aberrant thoughts and feelings in brain disorders and to study the effect of therapeutic interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1433-1443
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021

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