Autistic Vulnerability in Police Interviews: Compliance Vs. Suggestibility

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
K. L. Maras, Claverton Down, University of Bath, Bath, England, United Kingdom
Background: People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display a characteristic pattern of social communication impairments that may make them more vulnerable to encountering the Criminal Justice System as a victim, witness or suspect. However it has been suggested memory and cognitive impairments may result in heightened suggestibility in ASD, while impaired social cognition together with issues such as self-esteem, anxiety and fear of negative evaluation may result in an increased tendency to be overly compliant with requests.

Objectives:  To examine whether adults with ASD exhibt heightened suggestibiliy and compliance.

Methods: We report a series of studies utiising both experimental and self-report methods examining suggestibility and compliance in autistic adults and their age- and IQ-matched typically developed (TD) comparisons.

Results: Findings across two experiments indicated that autistic adults (with IQ in the normal range) are not more suggestible than TD adults. Findings regarding compliance were mixed: in Study 1, we found no difference in self-reported compliance between ASD and TD groups. Study 2 however found increased (informant-reported) compliance in ASD participants from a clinical sample referred for psychiatric evaluation, and Study 3 found increased ASD compliance in an experimental task testing compliance with an unreasonable request for participants’ time.

Conclusions:  It is important to consder the role of individual differences and psychological vulnerabilities to suggestibility and compliance in ASD. Findings have both theoretical and practical implications. Not only could a tendency towards over-compliance leave individuals with autism at increased risk of exploitation to enter the criminal justice system in the first instance, it also has a number of direct implications for obtaining evidence from them using different interview techniques. Leading or cued questions might result in heightened acquiescence, and interrogative, leading or coercive suspect interviewing techniques may result in false confessions.