Advertisement

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Moral judgment Autism Mental states Executive functioning Processing demands 

Notes

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)

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Pub.  https://doi.org/10.1093/jama/9780195176339.022.529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baron-Cohen, S., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Lombardo, M. (Eds.). (2013). Understanding other minds: Perspectives from developmental social neuroscience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199692972.001.0001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bellesi, G., Vyas, K., Jameel, L., & Channon, S. (2018). Moral reasoning about everyday situations in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders,52, 1–11.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2018.04.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blair, J. (1996). Brief report: Morality in the autistic child. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,26, 571–579.  https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02172277.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Brewer, R., Marsh, A. A., Catmur, C., Cardinale, E. M., Stoycos, S., Cook, R., et al. (2015). The impact of autism spectrum disorder and alexithymia on judgments of moral acceptability. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,124, 589–595.  https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000076.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Buon, M., Dupoux, E., Jacob, P., Chaste, P., Leboyer, M., & Zalla, T. (2013). The role of causal and intentional judgments in moral reasoning in individuals with high functioning autism. Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders,43, 458–470.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1588-7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Burack, J. A., Iarocci, G., Bowler, D., & Mottron, L. (2002). Benefits and pitfalls in the merging of disciplines: The example of developmental psychopathology and the study of persons with autism. Development and Psychopathology,14, 225–237.  https://doi.org/10.1017/s095457940200202x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cushman, F., Sheketoff, R., Wharton, S., & Carey, S. (2013). The development of intent-based moral judgment. Cognition,127, 6–21.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2012.11.008.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Dunfield, K. A., Best, L. J., Kelley, E. A., & Kuhlmeier, V. A. (2019). Motivating moral behavior: Helping, sharing, and comforting in young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Frontiers in Psychology,10, 25.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00025.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Dunn, L., & Dunn, L. (1997). Peabody picture vocabulary test. Circle Pines: American Guidance Service.  https://doi.org/10.1007/springerreference_184274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fadda, R., Parisi, M., Ferretti, L., Saba, G., Foscoliano, M., Salvago, A., et al. (2016). Exploring the role of theory of mind in moral judgment: The case of children with autism spectrum disorder. Frontiers in Psychology,7, 523.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00523.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Frith, U. (1989). Autism: Explaining the enigma. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  13. Garon, M., Forgeot d’Arc, B., Lavallée, M. M., Vera-Estay, E., & Beauchamp, M. (2018). Visual encoding of social cues contributes to moral reasoning in Autism Spectrum Disorder: An eye-tracking study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,12, 409.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00409.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Gerstadt, C. L., Hong, Y. J., & Diamond, A. (1994). The relationship between cognition and action: Performance of children 31/2–7 years old on a Stroop-like day-night test. Cognition,53, 129–153.  https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(94)90068-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Grant, C., Boucher, J., Riggs, K., & Grayson, A. (2005). Moral understanding in children with autism. Autism,9, 317–331.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361305055418.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Happé, F., Booth, R., Charlton, R., & Hughes, C. (2006). Executive function deficits in autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Examining profiles across domains and ages. Brain and Cognition,61, 25–39.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2006.03.004.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hartley, C., & Fisher, S. (2018). Do children with Autism Spectrum Disorder share fairly and reciprocally? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,48, 2714–2726.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3528-7.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Hill, E. L. (2004). Executive dysfunction in autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,8, 26–32.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2003.11.003.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hilton, B. C., & Kuhlmeier, V. A. (2019). Intention attribution and the development of moral evaluation. Frontiers in Psychology,9, 2663.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02663.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Killen, M., Mulvey, K. L., Richardson, C., Jampol, N., & Woodward, A. (2011). The accidental transgressor: Morally-relevant theory of mind. Cognition,119, 197–215.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2011.01.006.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Koster-Hale, J., Saxe, R., Dungan, J., & Young, L. (2013). Decoding moral judgments from neural representations of intentions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,110, 5648–5653.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1207992110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lai, M. C., Lombardo, M. V., Auyeung, B., Chakrabarti, B., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). Sex/gender differences and autism: Setting the scene for future research. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,54, 11–24.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2014.10.003.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Li, T., Decety, J., Hu, X., Li, J., Lin, J., & Yi, L. (2019). Third party sociomoral evaluations in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Child Development. First published on-line.  https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13206
  24. Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H., Leventhal, B. L., DiLavore, P. C., et al. (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, 205–223.  https://doi.org/10.1037/t17256-000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Margoni, F., & Surian, L. (2016a). Mental state understanding and moral judgment in children with autistic spectrum disorder. Frontiers in Psychology,7, 1478.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01478.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Margoni, F., & Surian, L. (2016b). Explaining the U-shaped development of intent-based moral judgments. Frontiers in Psychology,7, 219.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00219.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Margoni, F., & Surian, L. (2017). Children’s intention-based moral judgments of helping agents. Cognitive Development,41, 46–64.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2016.12.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Moran, J. M., Young, L., Saxe, R., Lee, S. M., O’Young, D., Mavros, P. L., et al. (2011). Impaired theory of mind for moral judgment in high-functioning autism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,108, 2688–2692.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1011734108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nobes, G., Panagiotaki, G., & Engelhardt, P. E. (2017). The development of intention-based morality: The influence of intention salience and recency, negligence, and outcome on children’s and adults’ judgments. Developmental Psychology,53, 1895–1911.  https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000380.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Nobes, G., Panagiotaki, G., & Pawson, C. (2009). The influence of negligence, intention, and outcome on children’s moral judgments. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,104, 382–397.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2009.08.001.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Peterson, C. C., Wellman, H. M., & Slaughter, V. (2012). The mind behind the message: Advancing theory-of-mind scales for typically developing children, and those with deafness, autism, or Asperger syndrome. Child Development,83, 469–485.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01728.x.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Rogé, B., & Mullet, E. (2011). Blame and forgiveness judgments among children, adolescents and adults with autism. Autism,15, 702–712.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361310394219.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Rogers, J., Viding, E., Blair, J., Frith, U., & Happé, F. (2006). Autism spectrum disorder and psychopathy: Shared cognitive underpinnings or double hit? Psychological Medicine,36, 1789–1798.  https://doi.org/10.1017/s0033291706008853.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Roid, G. M., & Miller, L. J. (1997). Leiter international performance scale—Revised: Examiners manual. Wood Dale: Stoelting Co.  https://doi.org/10.1007/springerreference_184258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ronfard, S., Nelson, L., Dunham, Y., & Blake, P. R. (2019). How children use accuracy information to infer informant intentions and to make reward decisions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,177, 100–118.  https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/6shfb.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Rosset, E., & Rottman, J. (2014). The big ‘whoops!’ in the study of intentional behavior: An appeal for a new framework in understanding human actions. Journal of Cognition and Culture,14, 27–39.  https://doi.org/10.1163/15685373-12342108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Russell, J., Jarrold, C., & Hood, B. (1999). Two intact executive capacities in children with autism: Implications for the core executive dysfunctions in the disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,29, 103–112.  https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1023084425406.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Salvano-Pardieu, V., Blanc, R., Combalbert, N., Pierratte, A., Manktelow, K., Maintier, C., et al. (2016). Judgment of blame in teenagers with Asperger’s syndrome. Thinking & Reasoning,22, 251–273.  https://doi.org/10.1080/13546783.2015.1127288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schaller, U. M., Biscaldi, M., Fangmeier, T., van Elst, L. T., & Rauh, R. (2019). Intuitive moral reasoning in high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: A matter of social schemas? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. First published on-line.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-03869-y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Setoh, P., Scott, R. M., & Baillargeon, R. (2016). Two-and-a-half-year-olds succeed at a traditional false-belief task with reduced processing demands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,113, 13360–13365.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1609203113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Shah, A., & Frith, U. (1993). Why do autistic individuals show superior performance on the block design task? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry,34, 1351–1364.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1993.tb02095.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Shulman, C., Guberman, A., Shiling, N., & Bauminger, N. (2012). Moral and social reasoning in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,42, 1364–1376.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1369-8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Smetana, J. G. (1981). Preschool children’s conceptions of moral and social rules. Child Development,52, 1333–1336.  https://doi.org/10.2307/1129527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Smetana, J. G., & Braeges, J. (1990). The development of toddlers’ moral and conventional judgments. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly,36, 329–346.Google Scholar
  45. Steele, S., Joseph, R., & Tager-Flusberg, H. (2003). Brief report: Developmental change in theory of mind abilities in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,33, 461–467.  https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1025075115100.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Surian, L., Baron-Cohen, S., & Van der Lely, H. (1996). Are children with autism deaf to Gricean maxims? Cognitive Neuropsychiatry,1, 55–72.  https://doi.org/10.1080/135468096396703.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Surian, L., & Leslie, A. M. (1999). Competence and performance in false belief understanding: A comparison of autistic and normal 3-year-old children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology,17, 141–155.  https://doi.org/10.1348/026151099165203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Takeda, T., Kasai, K., & Kato, N. (2007). Moral judgment in high-functioning pervasive developmental disorders. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences,61, 407–414.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1819.2007.01678.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Turiel, E. (1983). The development of social knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Turiel, E. (2002). The culture of morality: Social development, context, and conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Van de Vondervoort, J. W., & Hamlin, J. K. (2018). Preschoolers focus on others’ intentions when forming sociomoral judgments. Frontiers in Psychology,9, 1851.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01851.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Vyas, K., Jameel, L., Bellesi, G., Crawford, S., & Channon, S. (2017). Derailing the trolley: Everyday utilitarian judgments in groups high versus low in psychopathic traits or autistic traits. Psychiatry Research,250, 84–91.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.01.054.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Weisberg, D. S., & Leslie, A. M. (2012). The role of victims’ emotions in preschoolers’ moral judgments. Review of Philosophy and Psychology,3, 439–455.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-012-0101-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zalla, T., Barlassina, L., Buon, M., & Leboyer, M. (2011). Moral judgment in adults with autism spectrum disorders. Cognition,121, 115–126.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2011.06.004.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Zalla, T., & Leboyer, M. (2011). Judgment of intentionality and moral evaluation in individuals with high functioning autism. Review of Philosophy and Psychology,2, 681–698.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-011-0048-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zucchelli, M. M., Nori, R., Gambetti, E., & Giusberti, F. (2018). The influence of high autistic personality traits on the attribution of intentionality in typically developing individuals. Journal of Cognitive Psychology,30, 840–853.  https://doi.org/10.1080/20445911.2018.1530241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© 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

Personalised recommendations