To tell a lie, one must be aware that the person to whom one is lying to does not have the same knowledge available to them as they themselves have; that is, individuals must have at least a rudimentary theory of mind in order to attempt to deceive others. Although much research has been conducted on individuals with ASD’s theory of mind difficulties, no published empirical research to date has been conducted on individuals with ASD’s ability to tell lies.
The purpose of this study is to examine whether children with ASD will tell lies to protect themselves and/or to avoid hurting other’s feelings.
This study uses a temptation resistance paradigm to examine deception in children with ASD with mental ages between six and ten years. Children play a game where they are told not to turn around to look at a toy, but are tempted to peek when the experimenter leaves the room. They are then asked if they had peeked. To examine whether these same children will tell “white lies,” an undesirable gift paradigm is used: children receive an unattractive prize for winning a game and are asked if they like their prize.
It is anticipated that children with ASD will peek and lie about it to avoid getting into trouble for doing something that they were asked not to do. However, children with ASD are not expected to be able to tell white-lies to protect someone else’s feelings.
If the results are as expected, this will suggest that children with ASD have a very basic understanding that other individuals may not be privy to the same information that they themselves have. However, these children will likely not have a full-blown theory of mind and level of empathy to anticipate other’s hurt feelings.