Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 615–625 | Cite as

Trust and Deception in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Social Learning Perspective

  • Yiying Yang
  • Yuan Tian
  • Jing Fang
  • Haoyang Lu
  • Kunlin WeiEmail author
  • Li YiEmail author
Original Paper


Previous research has demonstrated abnormal trust and deception behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and we aimed to examine whether these abnormalities were primarily due to their specific deficits in social learning. We tested 42 high-functioning children with ASD and 38 age- and ability-matched typically developing (TD) children in trust and deception tasks and a novel condition with reduced social components. Results indicated that while TD children improved their performance with more social components, children with ASD lacked this additional performance gain, though they performed similarly as TD children in the condition with reduced social components. Our findings highlight that deficits of ASD in trust and deception are primarily associated with failure of use of social cues.


Autism Spectrum Disorder Trust Deception Social learning 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31571135, 31371020, 61533001, and 31622029), and the National High Technology Research and Development Program of China (863 Program, 2012AA011602). The authors are thankful to Dr. Lisa Joseph, Tianbi Li, Pengli, Li, Dr. Xueqin Wang, Qiandong Wang, Shuyuan Feng, Yinan Lv, and staff in Qingdao Elim School for their generous assistance in the project.

Author Contributions

YY was responsible for data collection, data analysis, and manuscript preparation; YT was responsible for data analysis; JF was responsible for data collection; HL was responsible for data analysis and paper revision; KW was responsible for study design and manuscript preparation; LY was responsible for study design, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all children included in the study and their parents.


  1. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4th text revision ed. (pp. 553–557). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  2. Auyeung, B., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Allison, C. (2008). The autism spectrum quotient: Children’s version (AQ-Child). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 1230–1240. doi: 10.1007/s10803-007-0504-z.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baldwin, D. A. (1993). Early referential understanding: Infants’ ability to recognize referential acts for what they are. Developmental Psychology, 29(5), 832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen, S. (1992). Out of sight or out of mind? Another look at deception in autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(7), 1141–1155.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bushwick, N. L. (2001). Social learning and the etiology of autism. New Ideas in Psychology 19, 49-75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chandler, M., Fritz, A. S., & Hala, S. (1989). Small-scale deceit: Deception as a marker of two-, three-, and four-year-olds’ early theories of mind. Child Development, 60, 1263–1277.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Constantino, J. N., & Gruber, C. P. (2002). The social responsiveness scale. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  8. Corriveau, K., & Harris, P. L. (2009). Choosing your informant: Weighing familiarity and recent accuracy. Developmental Science, 12(3), 426–437.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Dominey, P. F., & Dodane, C. (2004). Indeterminacy in language acquisition: The role of child directed speech and joint attention. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 17(2–3), 121–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ewing, L., Caulfield, F., Read, A., & Rhodes, G. (2015). Appearance-based trust behavior is reduced in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 19(8), 1002–1009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fu, G., Brunet, M. K., Lv, Y., Ding, X., Heyman, G. D., Cameron, C. A., & Lee, K. (2010). Chinese children’s moral evaluation of lies and truths—Roles of context and parental individualism-collectivism tendencies. Infant and Child Development, 19(5), 498–515.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Fu, G., Xu, F., Cameron, C. A., Leyman, G., & Lee, K. (2007). Cross-cultural differences in children’s choices, categorizations, and evaluations of truths and lies. Developmental Psychology, 43(2), 278–293.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Hareli, S., Kafetsios, K., & Hess, U. (2015). A cross-cultural study on emotion expression and the learning of social norms. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1501. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01501.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Jones, E. J. H., Webb, S. J., Estes, A., & Dawson, G. (2013). Rule learning in autism: The role of reward type and social context. Developmental Neuropsychology, 38(1), 58–77.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. Koenig, M. A., & Harris, P. L. (2005). Preschoolers mistrust ignorant and inaccurate speakers. Child Development, 76(6), 1261–1277.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Lau, Y. L., Cameron, C. A., Chieh, K. M., O’Leary, J., Fu, G., & Lee, K. (2013). Cultural differences in moral justifications enhance understanding of Chinese and Canadian children’s moral decisions. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44, 461–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Li, A. S., Kelly, E. A., Evans, A. D., & Lee, K. (2011). Exploring the ability to deceive in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(2), 185–195.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H., Leventhal, B. l., & Dilavore, P. C., ... Rutter, M. (2000). The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule—Generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(3), 205–223.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24(5), 659–685.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Mealy, M., Stephan, W., & Urrutia, I. C. (2007). The acceptability of lies: A comparison of Ecuadorians and Euro-Americans. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 31(6), 689–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rothbaum, F., Pott, M., Azuma, H., Miyake, K., & Weisz, J. (2000). The development of close relationships in Japan and the United States: Paths of symbiotic harmony and generative tension. Child Development, 71(5), 1121–1142.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Russell, J., Mauthner, N., Sharpe, S., & Tidswell, T. (1991). The ‘windows task’ as a measure of strategic deception in preschoolers and autistic subjects. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(2), 331–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rutter, M., Bailey, A., & Lord, C. (2003). The social communication questionnaire: Manual. Torrance: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  24. Sodian, B., & Frith, U. (1992). Deception and sabotage in autistic, retarded and normal children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(3), 591–605.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Sodian, B., Taylor, C., & Harris, P. (1991). Early deception and the child’s theory of mind: False trails and genuine markers. Child Development, 62, 468–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sweet, M. A., Heyman, G. D., Fu, G., & Lee, K. (2010). Are there limits to collectivism? culture and children’s reasoning about lying to conceal a group transgression. Infant and Child Development, 19(4), 422–442.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Talwar, V., Zwaigenbaum, L., Goulden, K. J., Manji, S., Loomes, C., & Rasmussen, C. (2012). Lie-telling behavior in children with autism and its relation to false-belief understanding. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 27(2), 122–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tomasello, M., & Farrar, M. J. (1986). Joint Attention and Early Language. Child Development, 57(6), 1454–1463.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Vanderbilt, K. E., Liu, D., & Heyman, G. D. (2011). The development of distrust. Child Development, 82(5), 1372–1380.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. Wang, Z., Williamson, R. A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2015). Imitation as a mechanism in cognitive development: A cross-cultural investigation of 4-year-old children’s rule learning. Cognitive Science, 6, 562.Google Scholar
  31. Xu, F., Bao, X., Fu, G., Talwar, V., & Lee, K. (2010). Lying and truth-telling in children: From conception to action. Child Development, 81(2), 581–596.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Yi, L., Fan, Y., Li, J., Huang, D., Wang, X., Tan, W., … Lee, K. (2014). Distrust and retaliatory deception in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(12), 1741–1755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yi, L., Pan, J., Fan, Y., Zou, X., Wang, X., & Lee, K. (2013). Children with autism spectrum disorder are more trusting than typically developing children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 116(3), 755–761.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Yirmiya, N., Solomonica-Levi, D., & Shulman, C. (1996). The ability to manipulate behavior and to understand manipulation of beliefs: A comparison of individuals with autism, mental retardation, and normal development. Developmental Psychology, 32(1), 62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Yu, C., & Ballard, D. H. (2007). A unified model of early word learning: Integrating statistical and social cues. Neurocomputing, 70(13–15), 2149–2165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences and Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental HealthPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Southern China Research Center of Statistical Science, School of Mathematical and Computational ScienceSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Qingdao Autism Research InstituteQingdaoChina
  4. 4.Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences, Academy for Advanced Interdisciplinary StudiesPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  5. 5.Academy for Advanced Interdisciplinary StudiesPeking UniversityBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations