A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2021 | Number 1, Volume 35

How just does the world seem to individuals with ASD?

A new study indicates that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and neurotypical individuals with high levels of autistic traits are less likely than other individuals to believe that the world is naturally just and that people get what they deserve—a cognitive difference that the study author says has both upsides and downsides for those with ASD. 

Alex Bertrams’ study involved 588 individuals, 60 of whom had an ASD diagnosis. After assessing participants’ reasoning ability and using the Autism Spectrum Quotient to measure their autistic traits, he assessed their global attitude about the justness of the world. In this assessment, participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with questions such as, “I feel that most people get what they are entitled to have.” 

A subsample of 388 participants, including all of the individuals diagnosed with ASD, also answered questions designed to assess: 

• Their belief that the world was just to them in particular (e.g., “I believe that by and large, I deserve what happens to me”). 

• Their locus of control (that is, whether events that happened to them were under their own control or externally controlled). 

• Their susceptibility to self-deception. 

Bertrams’ analysis revealed that individuals with ASD or an elevated number of autistic traits had a lower general belief in a just world. Analysis of the subsample showed that this was due to a lower personal belief in a just world, a greater belief in an external locus of control, and lower levels of self-deception. 

Bertrams notes that people with a lower belief in a just world are less likely to be socially accommodating and are less biased by people’s group memberships (for instance, their socioeconomic status) when judging them. Similarly, he says, “A tendency toward less diplomacy and less biased information processing has also been found in autistic people or people high in autistic traits.” 

“Furthermore,” he says, “these results point to a crucial autistic strength, namely, the ability to see things in an unbiased, realistic manner.” He notes, “The evidence from this study suggests that lower susceptibility to some biases is essentially based on a lower tendency for self-deception. This attribute, in combination with their tendency to be undiplomatic, may make autistic people and people high in autistic traits valuable consultants whenever important decisions are made.” 

However, Bertrams notes, people with a lower belief in a just world are likely to experience a reduced sense of wellbeing because “they deceive themselves too little in a positive direction, that is, they are too realistic.” Thus, he says, “In interventions designed to help autistic people, solutions should be sought that appreciate their lessbiased view of themselves and the world while still recognizing this as one potential cause of distress.”

Bertrams notes that his results “point to a crucial autistic strength, namely, the ability to see things in an unbiased, realistic manner.”

Citations

“Less illusion of a just world in people with formally diagnosed autism and higher autistic traits,” Alex Bertrams, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, December 2020 (free online). Address: Alex Bertrams, Educational Psychology Lab, Faculty of Human Sciences, Institute of Educational Science, University of Bern, Fabrikstrasse 8, 3012 Bern, Switzerland, alexander. [email protected]