Deceptive behaviour in autism: A scoping review

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Abstract

The ability to deceive is a key milestone in social cognitive development for typically developing individuals. In this scoping review, we systematically searched the literature to summarise research on deceptive behaviour in autism and identify gaps in knowledge. Across the 28 studies identified, three main themes were synthesised, with seven subthemes: (1) Deception ability and prevalence (1a) gameplay deception; (1b) naturalistic deception; (2) Psychological correlates of deception (2a) verbal, intellectual and social ability; (2b) theory of mind (ToM) behaviours; (2c) executive function; and (3) Social learning (3a) training; (3b) social contexts. The findings challenge common stereotypes, showing that autistic individuals can and do engage in deception. However, many do so less frequently and less adeptly than typically developing individuals. Emerging evidence also suggests that autistic individuals (without co-occurring intellectual disability) may use compensatory strategies when engaging in deception, and that more skilled deceptive behaviour may arise later in life. Implications and directions for future research are discussed. Lay abstract: The ability to deceive others is an important skill that usually develops in early childhood. In this review, we give an overview of studies that have examined deceptive behaviour in autistic children, adolescents and adults. We separated the study findings into three main categories and seven sub-categories: (1) Deception ability and prevalence (1a) gameplay deception; (1b) naturalistic deception; (2) Psychological processes in deception (2a) verbal, intellectual and social ability; (2b) ability to understand others’ thoughts and beliefs; (2c) cognitive ability; and (3) Social learning (3a) training; (3b) social contexts. Contrary to some stereotypes, we found that autistic people can and do deceive but often find this more difficult than non-autistic people. We also found that autistic people may use different psychological processes than non-autistic people when deceiving and may get better at deception in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-307
Number of pages15
JournalAutism
Volume26
Issue number2
Early online date26 Nov 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022

Keywords

  • autism
  • deception
  • executive function
  • scoping review
  • social learning
  • theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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