Autistic adults’ inclination to lie in everyday situations

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Autistic children and adolescents often have greater difficulty engaging in deception than their non-autistic peers. However, deception in autistic adulthood has received little attention to date. This study examined whether autistic and non-autistic adults differed in their inclination to lie in everyday situations and the factors that underpin this. Forty-one autistic and 41 non-autistic participants completed self-report measures relating to their inclination to lie, ability to lie and moral attitudes about the acceptability of lying. Participants also undertook a reaction-time test of lie-telling, as well as theory of mind and working memory measures. Autistic and non-autistic adults did not significantly differ in their inclination to lie in everyday situations. The degree to which lying was viewed as morally acceptable positively predicted both groups’ inclination to lie. The remaining factors underpinning the inclination to lie differed between groups. Lower self-rated lying ability and slower lie speed predicted a reduced inclination to lie in autistic participants, whereas higher theory of mind and working memory capacity predicted a reduced inclination to lie in the non-autistic group. Implications for our understanding of deception in autistic and non-autistic adults are discussed. Lay abstract: Differences in social communication and understanding others’ mental states may mean that autistic adults are less likely to deceive others than non-autistic individuals. We investigated whether autistic and non-autistic adults differ in their inclination to lie and which psychological factors are involved in the inclination to lie. We found that autistic and non-autistic groups reported a similar inclination to lie, and the extent to which participants viewed lying as acceptable helped to explain their inclination to deceive others. However, the other underlying psychological factors associated with deception inclination differed between autistic and non-autistic groups. Autistic adults’ belief about their ability to lie and also how quickly they could lie helped to explain whether they were more or less inclined to lie. For non-autistic adults, their memory and ability to understand others’ mental states helped to explain their lie inclination. We discuss these findings and recommend areas for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-731
Issue number3
Early online date12 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was conducted as part of PhD research undertaken by Ralph Bagnall, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


  • autism
  • deception
  • memory
  • social cognition and social behaviour
  • theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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