Exploring the Ability to Deceive in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
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This study was conducted to explore the ability and propensity to verbally deceive others in children with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We also explored the relationships among lie-telling ability, false belief understanding as measured using a standard battery of false belief tasks, and verbal mental age as measured using a standardized test of language ability. To explore antisocial lie-telling ability, we used a modified temptation resistance paradigm in which children were tempted to commit a transgression in the experimenter’s absence and given the opportunity to tell a lie about their transgression and to exercise semantic leakage control (SLC)—that is, to maintain consistency between the lie and subsequent statements that they make. To explore prosocial lie-telling ability, we used a modified undesirable gift paradigm in which children were awarded an unattractive prize for winning a game and given the opportunity to lie about liking the prize that the experimenter gave them. We found that children with ASD, like typically developing children, can and do tell antisocial lies to conceal a transgression, and prosocial lies in politeness settings. However, children with ASD were less able than typically developing children to exercise SLC. Furthermore, we found that, unlike in typically developing children, lie-telling ability in children with ASD was not related to their false belief understanding. The pattern of relations among lie-telling ability, false belief understanding, and verbal mental age are discussed with respect to possible contentions regarding the underlying processes by which children with ASD tell lies and succeed on false belief tasks.