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Deception in adults with autism: implications for police interviewing

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  • Full or part time
    Dr K Maras
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Involvement with the police can be a difficult experience for anyone, let alone a person with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with ASD are at increased risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system (CJS) for a number of reasons. Anti-social or obsessive behaviours may lead some people with ASD to commit crimes (e.g., Gary McKinnon, who hacked into US security systems looking for evidence of UFOs). ASD is also associated with impaired insight into what others are thinking, heightening their vulnerability to exploitation by others to commit offences (e.g., drug trafficking). Indeed, 37% of those questioned reported being forced or manipulated into doing something they did not want to do by someone they thought of as a friend (National Autistic Society, 2014). Further, people with ASD may be more likely to be questioned as an innocent suspect because their unusual behaviours may be misconstrued as “suspicious”.

Vulnerabilities to offending, exploitation, and false accusation faced by individuals with ASD are key problems for society and the CJS, and their vulnerability is likely to be exacerbated under the social and cognitive complexities of a police interview. World-leading research being carried out at the University of Bath takes a theoretically-informed empirical approach to understand how the socio-cognitive profile of people with ASD impact their ability to provide evidence in the CJS. To date, this work has focussed on interviewing witnesses and victims, but it is being extended to people with ASD who are suspected of having committed a criminal offence.

Dr Maras welcomes applications from prospective PhD students, by means of research proposal, who wish to undertake theoretically-informed projects to empirically examine how suspects with ASD might fare in police interviews, in both guilty and innocent simulations. In the first instance it is necessary to examine whether adults with ASD are able to effectively engage in verbal deception. It is often anecdotally reported that people with ASD are unable to lie, however very little research has tested this notion. Limited research has suggested that, while children with ASD can and do lie, they are less effective at maintaining the deception (e.g., they are worse at withholding knowledge that could only be known by someone committing an act). However, no research has examined this with ASD adults. It also important to ascertain how adults with ASD respond to revelations of evidence against them when they are telling the truth. For example, a lack of eye contact and repetitive and stereotyped body movements (often displayed by those with ASD but likely to be heightened in this context) may be erroneously perceived as indicative of a dishonest account. The PhD programme of research would comprise laboratory studies, utilising well-established deception paradigms and carefully controlled experimental and interviewing methods.

Applicants must have a degree in psychology or related discipline, with a predicted or actual grade at 1st or equivalent. A demonstrable interest in autism or the related applied area (e.g., forensic psychology) is a requirement.

Funding Notes

Applications are welcomed from applicants who are happy to compete for University and Graduate School funding or obtain external funding. Funding is difficult to obtain and highly competitive. You are responsible for researching sources of funding early (in some cases up to 12 months in advance) and applying (in conjunction with your agreed supervisor) for as many as possible. Please see the webpages at for further details.


Baron-Cohen, S. (1992). Out of Sight or Out of Mind? Another Look at Deception in Autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(7), 1141–1155. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1992.tb00934.x.

Dando, C. J., Bull, R., Ormerod, T. C., & Sandham, A. (in press). Interviewing suspects: Using information tactically to increase cognitive demand and detect deception. Legal & Criminological Psychology.

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Maras, K. L., & Bowler, D. M. (2014). Eyewitness testimony in autism spectrum disorder: a review. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 44(11), 2682–97. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1502-3

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Russell, J., Mauthner, N., Sharpe, S., & Tidswell, T. (1991). The “windows task” as a measure of strategic deception in preschoolers and autistic subjects. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(2), 331–349. doi:10.1111/j.2044-835X.1991.tb00881.x

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Talwar, V., Zwaigenbaum, L., Goulden, K. J., Manji, S., Loomes, C., & Rasmussen, C. (2012). Lie-Telling Behavior in Children With Autism and Its Relation to False-Belief Understanding. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 27(2), 122–129. doi:10.1177/1088357612441828.

Visu-Petra, G., Miclea, M., & Visu-Petra, L. (2012). Reaction Time-based Detection of Concealed Information in Relation to Individual Differences in Executive Functioning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26(3), 342–351. doi:10.1002/acp.1827.

Woodbury-Smith, M., & Dein, K. (2014). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Unlawful Behaviour: Where Do We Go from Here? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2216-5

Yirmiya, N., Solomonica-Levi, D., & Shulman, C. (1996). The ability to manipulate behavior and to understand manipulation of beliefs: A comparison of individuals with autism, mental retardation, and normal development. Developmental Psychology, 32(1), 62–69. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.32.1.62.

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