Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 185–195 | Cite as

Exploring the Ability to Deceive in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Annie S. Li
  • Elizabeth A. Kelley
  • Angela D. Evans
  • Kang Lee
Original Paper


The present study explored the relations among lie-telling ability, false belief understanding, and verbal mental age. We found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), like typically developing children, can and do tell antisocial lies (to conceal a transgression) and white lies (in politeness settings). However, children with ASD were less able than typically developing children to cover up their initial lie; that is, children with ASD had difficulty exercising semantic leakage control—the ability to maintain consistency between their initial lie and subsequent statements. Furthermore, unlike in typically developing children, lie-telling ability in children with ASD was not found to be related to their false belief understanding. Future research should examine the underlying processes by which children with ASD tell lies.


Autism Lie-telling Deception False belief Theory of mind 



This study was supported by grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and Queen’s University to EAK and by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH R01) (HD047290) to KL. We wish to thank Dr. Tony Charman and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We would also like to thank our participants and parents for their participation in this study, Ellen Drumm, Layla Hall, Rachel Leung, and Laura O’Connell for their help with data collection, and Monica Haberl for blind-coding the data. This study was carried out by ASL in partial fulfillment for the requirements of a master’s degree in psychology at Queen’s University. Portions of this study were presented at the 7th International Meeting for Autism Research in London, the 38th meeting of the Jean Piaget Society in Québec City, the 2009 meeting for the Society for Research in Child Development in Denver, and the 8th International Meeting for Autism Research in Chicago.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annie S. Li
    • 1
  • Elizabeth A. Kelley
    • 1
  • Angela D. Evans
    • 2
    • 4
  • Kang Lee
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Human Development and Applied PsychologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Institute of Child StudyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Gould School of LawUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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