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Adults With Autism May Not Understand Others' Intentions
Date:2/2/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- People with high-functioning autism have difficulty understanding others' intentions, new research shows.

This lack of understanding tends to make adults with autism, even those with high IQs, judge others more harshly, which may pose problems in forming and maintaining relationships, the study found.

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology asked 13 people with high-functioning autism, such as Asperger's syndrome, and a mean IQ of 120, as well as 13 neurologically normal adults to answer questions about moral quandaries in which a person meant well but ended up doing harm.

In one example, someone intended to put sugar in a friend's coffee, but it turned out to be poison. In another, two friends are kayaking in jellyfish-infested ocean waters. One friend had just read that the jellyfish were harmless and suggested they go for a swim. But then the other was stung and died.

People with autism came down harder on the person whose actions caused the harm, while those without autism put more emphasis on the person's good intentions.

"Adults with an autism spectrum disorder were less likely to take that intention information into account than a neurotypical person. They were more likely to make a harsh judgment of that person and less likely to forgive," said study co-author Liane Young, a postdoctoral associate at MIT.

The findings are reported in the Jan. 31 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Every day we have to make judgments about other's intentions, whether deciding how upset to get about an insensitive remark or a co-worker's slip-up.

"It's really important to be able to think about people's thoughts, beliefs and intentions, not only to make moral judgments but to figure out what they are doing and why," Young said. "To really understand people, it's
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