Moral development in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
This study examined how children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) judged social actions that involve moral and conventional violations. Past research shows that children with ASD, like their typical peers, judge social actions in the moral domain (e.g., causing harm to another person) to be different from social actions in the conventional domain (e.g., maintaining social order). This is somewhat surprising given their social and/or cognitive impairments, such as, deficits in theory of mind. To determine how robust this effect was the current study asked whether the domain distinction would remain intact when superficial cues were integrated into the context (e.g., crying). Perhaps ASD children with low ToM would be vulnerable to superficial emotional cues and use them to make moral and conventional distinctions; whereas high ToM and TD children were expected to ignore surface level use and focus on the domain of the act itself. Results found that all groups (i.e., TD, Low-ToM, and High-ToM) successfully maintained the domain distinction despite the emotional expressions exhibited by victims. Interestingly, the low-ToM tended to be the most severe in their ratings compared to either the high-ToM or the TD group.