Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 12, pp 5078–5085 | Cite as

Brief Report: Young Children with Autism Can Generate Intent-Based Moral Judgments

  • Francesco MargoniEmail author
  • Giulia Guglielmetti
  • Luca SurianEmail author
Brief Report


Past research suggested that, due to difficulties in mentalistic reasoning, individuals with autism tend to base their moral judgments on the outcome of agents’ actions rather than on agents’ intentions. In a novel task, aimed at reducing the processing demands required to represent intentions and generate a judgment, autistic children were presented with agents that accidentally harmed or attempted but failed to harm others and were asked to judge those agents. Most of the times, children blamed the character who attempted to harm and exculpated the accidental wrongdoer, suggesting that they generated intent-based moral judgments. These findings suggest that processing limitations rather than lack of conceptual competence explain the poor performance reported in previous research on moral judgment in autism.


Moral judgment Autism Mental states Executive functioning Processing demands 


Author Contributions

FM and LS conceived and designed the study; GG coordinated recruitment, participant management, and data collection, and advised on the autism section; FM conducted the data-analysis with supervision from LS; FM prepared the manuscript; LS and GG commented on the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MP4 63995 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MP4 65160 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (MP4 48483 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (MP4 48445 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Cognitive ScienceUniversity of TrentoRoveretoItaly
  2. 2.Azienda Provinciale per i Servizi Sanitari di TrentoTrentoItaly

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