, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 681-698

Judgment of Intentionality and Moral Evaluation in Individuals with High Functioning Autism

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Abstract

In this study, we investigated the relationships between judgments of intentionality and moral evaluation in individuals with High Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger Syndrome (AS). HFA or AS are neurodevelopmental disorders characterised by severe deficits in communication and social functioning. Impairments in Theory of Mind (ToM), i.e., the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and to others, are thought to be the core features of autism. Of all mental states, the concept of ‘intentional action’ is particularly important. People normally distinguish between actions that are performed intentionally and those that are performed unintentionally and this distinction plays a crucial role in social understanding and moral judgment. Recently, Knobe (Analysis 63: 190–193, 2003a), (Philosophical Psychology 16: 309–324, 2003b) showed that people’s moral evaluations might serve as input to the process by which people intuitively arrive at the intentionality judgments. Here, by using two pairs of vignettes, the Knobe’s Harm/Help cases and Murder/Bull’s-eye cases, we showed that, as already observed in typical population, in individuals with HFA/AS judgment of intentional action is informed by the moral appreciation of the action outcome. However, the two groups differed on praise judgments and moral justifications, suggesting that these processes were poorly influenced by the agent’s psychological states. We concluded that, although under certain circumstances, individuals with HFA/AS and people with typical development have similar intuitive judgments of intentionality, over-assignment of praise judgments and the reduced use of folk-psychological concepts in moral judgment likely reflect difficulties using intentionality information for moral reasoning.