Despite the overwhelming amount of typical sibling relationship research available, there are few studies regarding sibling relationships involving autism. Of those, even fewer use experimental designs. The present study explored the hypothesis that siblings of children with autism-spectrum disorders develop increased compassion for others. Compassion was operationally measured through three dependent variables: participants' willingness to help, like, and interact with others. The study used an experimental design testing the social response of siblings of children with autism to potential peers who varied with respect to three independent variables: disability status (cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism, or typically-developing), priming condition (sibling-primed or neutrally-primed), and physical attractiveness (higher or lower attractiveness). It was specifically hypothesized that siblings of children with autism who were primed with their sibling relationship would rate potential peers with a disability or who were unattractive higher than neutrally-primed participants.

Participants completed the experiment using MediaLab software, which presented potential classmates differing on the aforementioned conditions. Participants then answered questions regarding their willingness to interact with the individual, willingness to help the individual, and how much they would like the individual. Data were analyzed using a series of t-tests and produced some marginally-significant trends that support the hypothesis, although a small sample size severely limited the statistical power. Results and limitations of this study implicate the need for further research.



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