The 3D Project: Development of Deception Detection in autism

Deception is ever-present in day-to-day life, and the 3D project aims to investigate how the ability to detect deception develops over time and if this ability might be an area of difficulty for autistic individuals.

Lies and deception are pervasive in everyday social interaction. They range from white lies told for prosocial and altruistic purposes, to jokes used to assist in smoother communication, to feints in sports in order to throw off competitors, to antisocial lies told to hide true motives and deceive others for selfish gain such as forgeries and frauds.

One common underlying concept of all types of deception-production and -detection is mentalizing, which is the ability to understand another person’s mental state, such as their beliefs, desires and intentions, and predict their behaviour. Deception requires the understanding that one person intends to instil a false mental state in another person and an understanding of what the other person might or might not know.

Therefore, it is likely that autistic individuals, who are known to have difficulties in mentalizing, could struggle with deception-production and -detection. Furthermore, since mentalizing ability has been seen to evolve throughout development, and substantial changes in social cognition and behaviour are observed in adolescence, it is likely that deception abilities change over time as well.

The 3D project is a PhD research project funded by the Royal Society, and aims to:

  • Create a new set of deception detection stimuli, which addresses the issues of past deception detection projects
  • Investigate if deception detection abilities change throughout development from late childhood, through adolescence and to early adulthood
  • Investigate whether deception detection abilities are an area of weakness in autistic individuals
  • Examine if this ability of detecting deception has a direct relationship to victimization and bullying-related mental health issues

Another aspect of this project will be to study the double-empathy problem (Milton, 2012) and attempt to investigate if it holds true in the context of deception. The double-empathy problem suggests that the social struggles faced by autistic individuals are not only the result of cognitive differences in autism, but also because there is a breakdown of mutual understanding, empathy and reciprocity when people who have very different ways of experiencing the world come together. It advocates that not only do autistic people struggle to ‘read’ the mental states of neurotypical people, neurotypical people also have difficulties ‘reading’ autistic people.

Currently, we are in the process of setting up the developmental deception study online, and hope to start collecting data soon. We would be recruiting autistic and non-autistic males between the ages of 11 to 30 years who have been educated in mainstream schooling. Participants would be entered into a prize draw and will have the opportunity to win Amazon gift vouchers worth £20 for their participation, along with additional performance based awards! Watch this space for more details.

Email Ishita Chowdhury if you are interested to know more about the 3D project and if you would like to participate!

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