Theory of Mind & Autism

See also:    Cognitive Psychology    Mirror Neurons   

Internet Resources

Nurit Yirmiya et al
I have tried—and hope successfully—to defend my view of an important intellectual change at about 4 years indexed by children's mastery of the false belief task. The change hinges on an understanding of aboutness, that propositions or representations are about the world (situations). I first defended this view against claims that the observed developmental course of mastering the false belief task is due to mere surface information processing characteristics. Henry Wellman (personal communication) is just writing up a large meta-analysis of nearly 250 false belief experiments. There are several methodological changes that make some difference to when the false belief task is mastered but, overall, the developmental trend between 3 and 5 years persists. My conviction that the false belief task reflects an important change is reinforced by the recent findings that its mastery appears at the same time as a host of other—on the surface often seemingly unrelated—abilities emerge, in particular strengthened self control and counterfactual reasoning. I have argued that the emergence of these abilities can be related to the same basic intellectual advance of understanding aboutness. At least I have provided a viable alternative explanation for why these different tasks emerge at the same time and given a focus for future experiments to decide between the alternative proposals for how to explain these developmental synchronies.
Josef Perner
These results indicate that the amygdala's critical role in theory of mind may not be just in development, but also in 'on-line' theory of mind processing in the adult brain.
Valerie E. Stone et al
This study investigated the mind-reading abilities of 19 adults with Asperger syndrome and 19 typically developing adults. Two static mind-reading tests and a more naturalistic empathic accuracy task were used. In the empathic accuracy task, participants attempted to infer the thoughts and feelings of target persons, while viewing a videotape of the target persons in a naturally occurring conversation with another person. The results are consistent with earlier findings. The empathic accuracy task indicated significant between-group differences, whereas no such differences were found on the static mind-reading tasks. The most innovative finding of the present study is that the inference ability of adults with pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) and controls depends on the focus of the target's thoughts and feelings, and that the empathic accuracy of adults with Asperger syndrome and control adults might be different in terms of quantity and quality.
Koen S. Ponnet et al
Simon Baron-Cohen, Jolliffe, Mortimore, Robertson
Recently, within the field of early childhood education, there has been an increasing emphasis on the role of social construction of knowledge and on the inter-relatedness of aspects of social and cognitive development. This paper will report on an exploratory study which investigates a proposed relationship between young children's popularity status among peers and a representational theory of mind.
Sue Dockett and Sheila Degotardi
The psychological competence that normal children develop but autistic children do not develop is based not on a theory but rather on a skill.
Robert Gordon, John Barker
There are some problems with the theory of mind theory of autism. For one, some autistic patients do perform well on theory of mind tasks, and by adolescence, most are able to perform the most common theory of mind task, the false belief test. In addition, it doesn't seem to explain the range of symptoms in the autism spectrum. Asperger patients clearly have serious theory of mind deficits, but show few of the other cognitive or linguistic deficits that characterize more extreme forms of autism. If theory of mind deficits are the primary symptom of autism, how can this be?
Simon Baron-Cohen
It is, according to Hendriks-Jansen the lack of normal verbal and para-linguistic communication to the infant and child that produce the poor social skills and meta-representational capacities of the older child.
Jeramy Townsley
A theory of mind is the ability to infer mental states (beliefs, desires, intentions, imagination, emotions, etc.). We seem to do this an enormous amount, as a natural way of thinking about why people do what they do.
Simon Baron-Cohen
Autistic subjects will not only experience difficulties in ascribing mental states to other people, but will equally have problems in achieving second-order awareness of their own mental processes.
Peter Carruthers
In conclusion, we hypothesize that weaker connectivity between V3 and STS in autism may reflect a lack of top-down modulation from more anterior regions such as the amygdala and surrounding temporal pole and/or medial prefrontal cortex, which would normally enhance attention to the incoming visual stimuli transmitted from V3. For reasons yet to be determined, such top-down modulation does not seem to occur in autism, and as a consequence the social meaning of movements is more difficult to perceive.
Fulvia Castelli et al
The present studies also suggest that autistic children could learn to understand mind, even though they have a specific deficit in theory of mind. Teaching the principles underlying the false belief seems to be effective, especially to autistic children.
Hei-Rhee Ghim et al
The ability of high-functioning individuals with autism to understand the complex emotion of embarrassment, and how this relates to an understanding of theory of mind, was investigated. Scenarios involving embarrassing and non-embarrassing situations were presented to a group with autism and three comparison groups. Participants were required to rate the level of embarrassment felt by the protagonist and to justify their choices. The results indicated that those with autism generally gave similar ratings of embarrassment as the comparison groups, but did show significant difficulty with non-embarrassing scenarios, and in providing appropriate justifications for embarrassment. In addition, a significant relationship between scores from false belief tasks and justification scores was found, supporting the proposed link between theory of mind skills and understanding embarrassment. Participants with autism did, however, show a higher than expected understanding of this complex emotion.
Ashleigh Hillier, Lesley J Allinson
Subjects who pass theory of mind tasks are often children with PDD/NOS and Asperger's syndrome. We think there is a tendency toward a gradation in severity of the (autistic) disorder in relation to the development of a theory of mind.
P. Steerneman, Huskens
A.M. Leslie
Theories of children's developing understanding of mind tend to emphasize either individualistic processes of theory formation, maturation, or introspection, or the process of enculturation. However, such theories must be able to account for the accumulating evidence of the role of social interaction in the development of social understanding. We propose an alternative account, according to which the development of children's social understanding occurs within triadic interaction involving the child's experience of the world as well as communicative interaction with others about their experience and beliefs.
Jeremy I. M. Carpendale, Charlie Lewis
Children aged around 5 and 9 years and adults were presented with stories and videos about a protagonist who heard a message purporting to provide factual information. Observing subjects knew whether the message was true or false. In some cases, this message contradicted the listener's existing belief based on what he or she had seen previously. Subjects judged whether the listener would believe or disbelieve the message. Child subjects frequently judged that a contradicting message would be disbelieved, irrespective of whether they (the child subjects) knew it to be true or false. In contrast, adult subjects made judgments that were contaminated by their own privileged knowledge of the truth. For three different scenarios, adult subjects judged more frequently that the message would be believed if they (but not the listener protagonist) knew it to be true, than if they thought it was false.
P. Mitchell, E.J. Robinson, J.E. Isaacs and R.M. Nye
Our ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people does not initially develop as a theory but as a mechanism. The 'theory of mind' mechanism (ToMM) is part of the core architecture of the human mind/brain, and is specialized for learning about mental states. Impaired development of this mechanism can have drastic effects on social learning, seen most strikingly in the autistic spectrum disorders. ToMM kick-starts belief-desire attribution but effective reasoning about belief contents depends on a process of selection by inhibition. The selection process (SP) develops slowly through the preschool period and well beyond. By modeling ToMM-SP as mechanisms of selectiveattention, we uncovered new empirical phenomena. Early 'theory of mind' is a modular-heuristic process of domain specific learning.
Alan Leslie
The Sally-Anne task used to assess children's understanding of false belief has traditionally been conceptualized as a test of mental state understanding in that it asks the child where a protagonist thinks an object is located when the protagonist has a false belief about the object's location. However, a recent logical analysis by Peterson and Riggs identifies a strategy for such tasks involving a specific reasoning process they term subtractive reasoning. This can be assessed by asking the child a question such as, 'If the marble had not been moved, where would it be now?' Studies of typically developing children have shown strong associations between false belief and subtractive reasoning tasks even when verbal mental age is controlled. In the present study we replicated these experiments using children with autism and children with severe learning difficulties. Although significant correlations between the two tasks were found for all three groups, analyses of contingencies between the two tasks and comparison of their respective difficulty for each group suggested that ability in subtractive reasoning was a necessary but not sufficient component of successful performance in the false belief tasks. Our results indicate the presence of a further factor which is required in these tasks, and which is deficient in autism, and we argue that this may consist in a specific type of generativity.
Donald Peterson, Dermot Bowler
This paper reviews a recent set of behavioural studies that examine the scope and nature of the representational system underlying theory-of-mind development. Studies with typically developing infants, adults and children with autism all converge on the claim that there is a specialized input system that uses not only morphological cues, but also behavioural cues to categorize novel objects as agents. Evidence is reviewed in which 12- to 15-month-old infants treat certain non-human objects as if they have perceptual/attentional abilities, communicative abilities and goal-directed behaviour. They will follow the attentional orientation of an amorphously shaped novel object if it interacts contingently with them or with another person. They also seem to use a novel object's environmentally directed behaviour to determine its perceptual/attentional orientation and object-oriented goals. Results from adults and children with autism are strikingly similar, despite adults' contradictory beliefs about the objects in question and the failure of children with autism to ultimately develop more advanced theory-of-mind reasoning. The implications for a general theory-of-mind development are discussed.
Susan C. Johnson
Uta Frith, Christopher Frith
How can one use, as diagnostic of autism, a test for something which is not a necessarily inherent feature of autism at all, let alone something which occurs also in deaf people also?
David Andrews
We have demonstrated a cognitive deficit that is largely independent of general intellectual level and has the potential to explain both lack of pretend play and social impairment by virtue of a circumscribed cognitive failure.
Simon Baron Cohen
A short summary of Baron-Cohen's work.
Gary Sturt
The emergence of phonological awareness was examined in a longitudinal study. Two issues were of particular interest: (1) the relationship between phonological awareness and early language development, and (2) the relationship between theory of mind and phonological awareness. Of interest was whether early language ability at 2 years was related to phonological awareness (e.g., rhyming) at 4 years. Overall, children's early language ability at 2 years predicted their phonological awareness at 4 years. Also of interest was the relationship between theory of mind understanding and phonological awareness. At 4 years measures of theory of mind were related to phonological awareness. Possible explanations of the link between language, theory of mind and phonological awareness are discussed.
M. Jeffrey Farrar
In Origins of the Social Mind, B. Ellis and D. Bjorklund, eds. Guilford, 2005
Simon Baron-Cohen
Simon Baron-Cohen
A group of high-functioning autistic individuals was compared to a clinical control group matched on VIQ, age, sex and SES. Significant group differences were found on executive function, theory of mind, emotion perception and verbal memory tests, but not on spatial or other control measures. Second-order theory of mind and executive function deficits were widespread among the autistic group, while first-order theory of mind deficits were found in only a subset of the sample. The relationship of executive function and theory of mind deficits to each other, and their primacy to autism, are discussed.
S. Ozonoff et al
One intriguing possibility is that eye gaze stimuli adversely stimulate the autonomic nervous system in autism, thereby inhibiting the normal development of a theory of mind.
Brian Keeley
The SLI group performed similarly to same-age peers when linguistic complexity was low, but similarly to younger children when linguistic complexity was high. These findings provide evidence that linguistic competence serves as a limiting factor in false belief performance for children with SLI.
Carol Miller
Many so-called neurotypical individuals, can, conceivably, be thought of as having developed their understanding of the world at least partially through fiction. It is not surprising, then, to learn that many individuals with autism speak about the ways in which they have used moments from film to attempt to understand the behavior of others.
Kristen Loutensock
The false-belief task has become the cornerstone of a branch of developmental psychology. However, although Henry Wellman and Colleagues (Wellman, Cross and Watson, 2001) did an outstanding job at clearing up the with regards to certain possibly intervening variables, most of the deep-rooted questions about the false-belief task still stand. This paper will discuss a way of making these questions evident for further theorizing and empirical research by means of a formal model of the false-belief task.
Leo A. Ferres
Recent neuroimaging studies have reported that regions of the frontal lobes appear to be active during theory of mind tasks, suggesting that these may be part of a theory of mind circuit.
Valerie Stone, Simon Baron-Cohen, Robert Knight
Patients with limited focal frontal and nonfrontal lesions were tested for visual perspective taking and detecting deception. Frontal lobe lesions impaired the ability to infer mental states in others, with dissociation of performance within the frontal lobes. Lesions throughout the frontal lobe, with some suggestion of a more important role for the right frontal lobe, were associated with impaired visual perspective taking. Medial frontal lesions, particularly right ventral, impaired detection of deception. The former may require cognitive processes of the lateral and superior medial frontal regions, the latter affective connections of the ventral medial frontal with amygdala and other limbic regions.
Donald T. Stuss, Gordon G. Gallup, Jr, Michael P. Alexander
The myth that individuals with autism actively avoid people and social eye contact is a persistent belief. However, Frith argued persuasively that individuals with autism do not display intentional gaze avoidance but rather they are unaware of the significance of the eyes, and eye contact in particular, in interpersonal communication and intersubjectivity.
Nurit Yirmiya et al
K. Kampe et al
In light of a well-documented deficit in theory of mind found in high-functioning individuals with autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome (AS), this article explores HFA and AS children's social-cognitive understanding of other people as reflected in their linguistic performance when answering mundane, everyday questions posed by their family members during dinnertime interaction. Ethnographic observations and video recordings of spontaneous interaction at home reveal that, contrary to findings in cognitive psychological research, the majority of the time the children were able to detect their interlocutors' communicative intentions and produce relevant responses that were marked by their conversational partners as acceptable. This article proposes that this success is due in part to parents who, through different strategies, facilitate their HFA and AS children's access to socio-cultural perspective-taking and their interlocutors' intentions, and better their children's communicative skills.
Tamar Kremer-Sadlik
Together, these findings suggest that the combination of inhibition and working memory (as reflected in Conflict IC tasks) may be central to the relation between EFand false belief understanding.
Stephanie Carlson et al
Results showed that both normal 4-5-year-old children, and children with moderate learning difficulties improved in their reasoning performance when prompted to use imagination.
Fiona J. Scott
Systematic naturalist observations of imitation, theory of mind and other related activities (play and social contact) were conducted for five groups of subjects. The groups comprised children with autism, adults with autism, children with mixed learning disabilities, and normally developing 3- to 4-year-olds and 5- to 6-year-olds. Very little imitation was observed in any group other than the 3- to 4-year-old normal children, making it difficult to draw any conclusion about the specificity and universality of a deficit in spontaneous imitation. However, autistic subjects showed less interaction with peers, more manipulative activity, less symbolic play and less evidence of understanding mental states. The quality of these behaviours, when they did occur, also differed between groups. Comparisons across school and play situations indicated no major situational differences. The implications of the results are discussed with regard to Rogers and Pennington's intersubjectivity theory of autism.
Julie Brown, Andrew Whiten
Multiple regression analyses indicated that two inhibition tasks (Bear/Dragon and Whisper) were significantly related to theory of mind after accounting for age, receptive vocabulary, and planning. In
Stephanie Carlson et al
These findings are taken as evidence that the acquisition of sentential complements contributes to the development of theory of mind in preschoolers.
Courtney Melinda Hale, Helen Tager-Flusberg
Although it is well established that four-year-olds outperform three-year-olds on predicting behavior from false beliefs, this is only true when the false belief is coupled with a positive desire. Four-year-olds perform poorly in an otherwise standard false belief task when the protagonist's desire is to avoid rather than to approach a target.
Alan M. Leslie, Pamela Polizzi
A growing body of multidisciplinary research in the area of theory of mind shows promise to further our understanding of the child psychotherapeutic process through the use of empirical research techniques.
Cheryl Oandasan
Our goal today is to examine whether disruptions in social-cognitive functioning, such as those observed in autism, can sometimes be attributed, at least in part, to difficulties with the detection and processing of intentions/intentionality.
Bertram Malle
We discuss Baron-Cohen's theory of the mindreading system to motivate the comparison of behavior in an extensive form game with its corresponding normal form. We find consistent differences in behavior between the normal and extensive forms.
Kevin McCabe, Vernon Smith, Michael LePore
The ability to "mentalize," that is to understand and manipulate other people's behavior in terms of their mental states, is a major ingredient in successful social interactions. A rudimentary form of this ability may be seen in great apes, but in humans it is developed to a high level. Specific impairments of mentalizing in both developmental and acquired disorders suggest that this ability depends on a dedicated and circumscribed brain system. Functional imaging studies implicate medial prefrontal cortex and posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) as components of this system. Clues to the specific function of these components in mentalizing come from single cell recording studies: STS is concerned with representing the actions of others through the detection of biological motion; medial prefrontal regions are concerned with explicit representation of states of the self. These observations suggest that the ability to mentalize has evolved from a system for representing actions.
Chris Frith, Uta Frith
A paper generalizing Dretske's account of introspection -- based upon a representational theory of consciousness -- to non-perceptual mental states, particularly to belief and desire.
William Seagar
C. Gregory, Lough, V. Stone, Simon Baron-Cohen, Hodges
Clearly, improvement on low- and non-verbal tests of ToM will increase our understanding of the process by which this uniquely human ability develops. Recent research has demonstrated that there are clear precursors throughout infancy to full-blown theory of mind. These milestones are presumably achieved with minimal linguistic competence.
Allison Adler
Blair's work, along with autobiographical accounts of autism, suggest that the fundamental moral perception may not be of the like-me-ness of the other but of the other as having value, whether like-me or not. This perception need not rely on simulation.
J. Kennett
In this paper, I provided some conceptual motivation and a set of suggestive data to support the hypothesis that the acquisition of certain classes of linguistic items (epistemic modals and evidentials) presupposes advancements in ToM. Furthermore, I argued that, so far, there is little evidence for linguistic determinism in ToM development, although a variety of hypotheses about the relation between language development and ToM development are worth exploring further.
Anna Papafragou
This type of cognition would not be likely for those who do not have theory of mind because they believe that others always know what they are thinking.
Stephen Edelson
Neither meaning nor communication involve the representation of mental states essentially. Correspondingly, agents who are competent with regards language use and communication need not possess metacognitive abilities.
Richard Breheny
"Theory of mind" is primarily a label for the research area that investigates the conceptual system that underlies our ability to impute mental states (what we know, think, want, feel, etc.) to others and ourselves. The study of these concepts is essential for our understanding of memory insofar as memory is not just storage of information, but is also dependent on knowledge of our own information storage processes. In Tulving and Madigan's (1970, p. 477) words we should "start looking for ways of experimentally studying and incorporating into theories ... of memory one of the truly unique characteristics of human memory: its knowledge of its own knowledge." To have such higher order knowledge one needs a concept of knowledge and other mental states. Memory development should, therefore, be seen in the light of the acquisition of mental concepts, i.e., the child's growing theory of mind.
Josef Perner
A 'Radical Simulationist' account of how folk psychology functions has been developed by Robert Gordon. I argue that Radical Simulationism is false. In its simplest form it is not sufficient to explain our attribution of mental states to subjects whose desires and preferences differ from our own. Modifying the theory to capture these attributions invariably generates innumerable other false attributions. Further, the theory predicts that deficits in mentalizing ought to co-occur with certain deficits in imagining perceptually-based scenarios. I present evidence suggesting that this prediction is false, and outline further possible empirical tests of the theory.
Daniel A. Weiskopf
In the last 13 years, the conceptualization of autism as involving a unique cognitive deficit in ToM abilities was the focus of theoretical consideration and empirical activity. The current series of meta-analyses revealed that although individuals with autism manifest a more severe impairment in their ToM abilities than do individuals with MR, this deficit is also manifested in individuals with MR. This implies that the deficit is not unique to autism, although it may be that individuals with autism and individuals with MR fail ToM tasks for different reasons.
Nurit Yirmiya, Osnat Erel, Michal Shaked, Daphna Solomonica-Levi
There is good evidence that irony involves attributive metarepresentation, and that this extra layer of metarepresentation makes irony harder than metaphor to understand for people with autism .
Deidre Wilson
Uta Frith
Simon Baron-Cohen
Stunning examples of such failures of empathy can be found in scholarship about autism from the early to mid-twentieth century. Although people with autism have been labeled "mindblind," case studies by Melanie Klein and Bruno Bettelheim suggest that, in fact, even eminent scholars may be mindblind in their own ways. Even when hearts appear to be in the right place, researchers from across the disciplines in medicine, education, and the humanities risk infusing our understanding of autism with our own metaphors and framing it with underdetermined theories. This threat of misinterpretation may be especially acute today, when autism's rise and society's growing awareness have given the disorder an increasingly powerful cultural resonance. The challenge, then, to writers, researchers, and scholars in the present, as in the past, is to figure out how to write about and theorize minds that do not possess what seems so fundamental a capacity for the social human, how to theorize minds with which we cannot fully empathize--to which we are, in many ways, blind.
Ann Jurecic
Children's understanding of their own and others' mental states shapes their most basic understanding of the world around them, recent research suggests.
Siri Carpenter
At the core of moral psychology is a Concern Mechanism, which is crucial both to altruistic motivation and to the capacity for basic moral judgment. Altruistic motivation and moral judgment depend on only minimal mindreading capacities
Shaun Nichols
Brian J. Scholl, Alan Leslie
If autism is correctly characterised as involving the Theory of Mind, it constitutes an example of idiosyncratic pathological breakdown comparable to that of various language disorders.
Ianthi-Maria Tsimpli, Neil Smith
It is the autistic individuals who pass Theory of Mind who may also offer some insights into the considerable clinical variability observed in individuals over time.
R. Eisenmajer, Leekam, Prior, Wing, Gould
The proposed (neurobiological) model is composed of a representational component subserved by posterior brain regions (temporal and parietal) and an application / execution component subserved by prefrontal regions.
Ahmad Abu-Akel
The most fundamental solution concepts in Game Theory - Nash equilibrium, backward induction, and iterated elimination of dominated strategies - are based on the assumption that people are capable of predicting others' actions. These concepts require people to be able to view the game from the other players' perspectives, i.e. to understand others' motives and beliefs. Economists still know little about what enables people to put themselves into others' shoes and how this ability interacts with their own preferences and beliefs. Social neuroscience provides insights into the neural mechanism underlying our capacity to represent others' intentions, beliefs, and desires, referred to as "Theory of Mind" or "mentalizing", and the capacity to share the feelings of others, referred to as "empathy". We summarize the major findings about the neural basis of mentalizing and empathizing and discuss some implications for economics.
Ernst Fehr
Three findings were pertinent. First, the CA group performed at higher levels than did the LA group and the ASD group on both task sets. Second, although the CA and the LA groups performed equally well on both the logical and the social inferencing tasks, the ASD group performed better on the social inferencing tasks. Finally, the prompt hierarchy significantly improved overall task performance for the ASD and LA groups.Clinical Implications: These findings indicate that task type, variations in vocabulary ability, and the provision of support influenced performance on the false belief tasks.
Elaine R. Silliman
The NT mind -- how it functions, what stimuli triggers the characteristic, non-autism socializing, along with the diverse social delusion that is encountered when one NT meets another or a person with autism sees and greets them.
Chris Slater
In the current project by Abbeduto and Leavitt, they question the all or none notion of theory of mind and seek to demonstrate that only some parts of a theory of mind may fail to develop in individuals with autism.
Although a number of advanced theory of mind tasks have been developed, there is sparse information on whether performance on different tasks is associated. The study examined the performance of 20 high-functioning 6- to 12-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder and 20 controls on three high-level theory of mind tasks: Strange Stories, Cartoons and the children's version of the Eyes task. The pattern of findings suggests that the three tasks may share differing, non-specific, information-processing requirements in addition to tapping any putative mentalizing ability. They may also indicate a degree of dissociation between social-cognitive and social-perceptual or affective components of the mentalizing system.
Ella Brent, Francesca Happe et al
We propose that the critical mechanism that allows humans to develop a theory of own and other minds results from the development of introspection (monitoring one's own mind) and an adaptation of a much older social brain concerned with monitoring the behaviour of others.
Chris Frith
The tendency of humans to seek relevance, and the exploitation of this tendency in communication, provide the justification for a dedicated comprehension procedure. This procedure, although simple to use, is neither trivial nor easy to discover.
Dan Sperber, Dierdre Wilson
By relating behavior to the attitudes agents take to the truth of propositions, ToMM makes possible a commonsense causal interpretation of agents' behavior as the result of circumstances that are imaginary rather than physical.
Alan M. Leslie
There are striking mismatches between psychological understanding as evidenced in experimental tasks - including, centrally, false belief tasks - and social skills as evidenced in daily life.
Martin Davies, Tony Stone
Discussion of Sally-Anne test; Explanation of table of means, mental ages and abilities of children involved; IQ of participants; pretend play; second-order representation; sub-group of autistics with a theory of mind; Treatment of autism; etc.
Cassie Creswell
the capacity for self-awareness does not depend on the Theory of Mind. It's much more plausible to suppose that self-awareness derives from a Monitoring Mechanism that is independent of the Theory of Mind.
Shaun Nichols, Steven Stich
Previous functional imaging studies have explored the brain regions activated by tasks requiring 'theory of mind'--the attribution of mental states. Tasks used have been primarily verbal, and it has been unclear to what extent different results have reflected different tasks, scanning techniques, or genuinely distinct regions of activation. Here we report results from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study (fMRI) involving two rather different tasks both designed to tap theory of mind. Brain activation during the theory of mind condition of a story task and a cartoon task showed considerable overlap, specifically in the medial prefrontal cortex (paracingulate cortex). These results are discussed in relation to the cognitive mechanisms underpinning our everyday ability to 'mind-read'.
H.L. Gallagher, F. Happé, N. Brunswick, P.C. Fletcher, U. Frith, C.D. Frith
In both the clinical and control groups the Eyes Test was inversely correlated with the Autism Spectrum Quotient a measure of autistic traits in adults of normal intelligence.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, Jacqueline Hill
There is reason to believe that language and theory of mind have co-evolved, given their close relation in development and their tight connection in social behavior. However, they are clearly not inseparable—physiologically, cognitively, or functionally.
Bertram Malle
This latter finding challenges the hypothesis of a domain-specific, ToM module, and suggests instead that poor performance on ToM tasks may be attributed to a more general difficulty using higher order rules to integrate 2 incompatible perspectives into a single system of inferences.
Philip David Zelazo et al
Our findings indicate that there are limited relationships between representational mental state understanding, executive functions, and symptom severity in autism.
Robert M Joseph, Helen Tager-Flusberg
A novel philosophical perspective on our mindreading abilities can work in concert with neuroscientific findings to suggest revisions in the psychological models of this capacity.
This paper challenges the hypothesis that the type of social impairment observed in children with autism is evidence of an underlying malfunction in their 'Theory of Mind', resulting in 'mindblindness'. To establish this point, the paper takes up two interesting ideas in the Theory of Mind literature, purged of their Cartesianism: first, that the study of autism does indeed provide us with critical insights into the development of social understanding and empathy; and, second, that no meaningful distinction can be drawn between a child's interpersonal and intrapersonal development. The paper seeks to show how the ability to understand someone else's thoughts and emotions is a product of endless co-regulated interactions in which the child's own emotions and sense of self develop. The reason why children with autism so frequently exhibit impaired social relatedness is because basic biological challenges -- such as sensory over-and under-reactivity -- inhibit their ability to engage in these co-regulated interactive experiences.
Staurt Shanker
It is important that NT individuals make use of their abnormally developed skills, i.e. lying and deception.
Nick Riviera
Nurit Yirmiya et al
Possession of a "theory of mind" (ToM) -- as demonstrated by an understanding of the false beliefs of others -- is fundamental in children's cognitive development. A key question for debate concerns the effect of language input on ToM. In this respect, comparisons of deaf native signing children raised by deaf signing parents with deaf late signers raised by hearing parents provide a critical test. We report two studies using 'thought picture' measures of ToM that minimize verbal task performance requirements. The results are discussed in terms of access to conversation and extra-linguistic influences on development such as the presence of sibling relationships, and suggest that the expression of a ToM is the end result of social understanding mediated by early conversational experience.
Tyron Woolfe, Stephen C. Want & Michael Siegal
Verbal mental age is likely to be an important factor for theory of mind ability. A developmental delay in theory of mind in autism is more likely than the likelihood of a specific deficit 'with pervasive explanatory power'.
Verity Bottroff
This longitudinal study investigated the developmental trajectory of discourse skills and theory of mind in 57 children with autism. Children were tested at two time points spaced 1 year apart. Each year they provided a natural language sample while interacting with one parent, and were given standardized vocabulary measures and a developmentally sequenced battery of theory of mind tasks. The language samples were coded for conversational skills, specifically the child's use of topic-related contingent utterances. Children with autism made significant gains over 1 year in the ability to maintain a topic of discourse. Hierarchical regression analyses demonstrated that theory of mind skills contributed unique variance to individual differences in contingent discourse ability and vice versa, when measured concurrently; however, they did not predict longitudinal changes. The findings offer some empirical support for the hypothesis that theory of mind is linked to communicative competence in children with autism.
Courtney M. Hale, Helen Tager Flusberg
A Theory of Mind is a specific cognitive ability to understand others as intentional agents, that is, to interpret their minds in terms of theoretical concepts of intentional states such as beliefs and desires.
Gloria Origgi
We call it a theory because we can never actually connect with another's mind. There is no objective way to verify the contents of their consciousness or to assess their motivations and desires.
Mike Eslea
Theory of mind refers to the notion that many autistic individuals do not understand that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. There is nothing in the theory of mind to imply that autistic individuals feel superior to others.
Stephen Edelson
Nurit Yirmiya et al
The ToM abilities of children with paranoid schizophrenia and children with undifferentiated or disorganized schizophrenia did not differ. Findings strengthen the notion of a limited understanding of ToM in schizophrenia, and support the notion that ToM deficits, although more severe in autism, are not unique to autism.
Tammy Pilowsky, Nurit Yirmiya, Shoshana Arbelle, Tamar Mozes
Mindreading deficits in autism spectrum conditions appear to be early occurring and universal. Parents of children with autism spectrum conditions, may also show difficulties in attributing mental states when just the eye-region of the face is available.
Simon Baron-Cohen
The metarepresentational skills involved in theory of mind also affect the way children can access and scan their own mental repertoire beyond the areas of currently activated content (i.e. divergent thinking).
Thomas Suddendorf, Claire Fletcher-Flinn
(T)here is plenty of evidence that executive function problems (self control) relate to the development of a theory of mind... theory of mind is necessary for achieving higher levels of executive control.
Josef Perner, Birgit Lang
The data do, however, speak against the original, most plausible explanation that the observed relationships between theory of mind and executive function tasks are due to problems of inhibition in the theory of mind tasks.
Josef Perner, Birgit Lang, Daniela Kloo
An experimental study with three people with Asperger Syndrome suggested that level of performance on standard theory of mind tasks was strongly related to the ability to engage in introspection.
Uta Frith
There appears to be a promising correspondence in localization (within the hemisphere) using two very different methodologies for establishing the material basis of certain complex but critical higher-level cognitive processes.
Tim Shallice
If we are to build human-like robots that can interact naturally with people, our robots must know not only about the properties of objects but also the properties of animate agents in the world.
Brian Scassellati, MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab
In practice, the consequences of a ToM impairment or, in particular, the inability to profit from knowledge which implies that another person holds a false belief, would include misunderstanding other people's behaviour when it is based on false belief. More generally, the ability to make, and take into account, attributions regarding other people's mental states is crucial in interacting in a socially appropriate and sensitive manner. Difficulties in this regard have been reported repeatedly in case studies of patients with frontal lobe damage.
Andrea D. Rowe et al
This article will compare the typical development of theory of mind with the development of mental state understanding in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Johanna Lantz
Ultimately, any biological theory of autism will have to account not only for specific genetic abnormalities, but how such abnormalities cause brain damage of the type to cause the specific cognitive deficits reviewed above.
Simon Baron-Cohen, John Swettenham
Narratives were revealed to be effective tools to assess, in aggressive children, in bullies and in victims, both their level of social understanding and the strategies they use to reconstruct antecedents.
S.Bisaccia, S.Pagnucci, et al
Members of many primate and non-primate species exhibit sensitivity to social relationships and behavior that functions to deceive other animals. However, the behavior could be based on one or a number of nonmentalistic psychological processes.
C. Heyes
Difficulty in understanding other minds is a core cognitive feature of autism spectrum conditions. The theory of mind difficulties seem to be universal among such individuals. This paper describes some of the manifestations of this abnormality, and emphasizes how developmentally appropriate tests are needed in order to reveal it.
Simon Baron-Cohen
The term theory of mind (ToM) refers to the capacity to infer one's own and other persons' mental states. A substantial body of research has highlighted the evolution of ToM in nonhuman primates, its emergence during human ontogeny, and impaired ToM in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. There is good empirical evidence that ToM is specifically impaired in schizophrenia and that many psychotic symptoms—for instance, delusions of alien control and persecution, the presence of thought and language disorganization, and other behavioral symptoms—may best be understood in light of a disturbed capacity in patients to relate their own intentions to executing behavior, and to monitor others' intentions. However, it is still under debate how an impaired ToM in schizophrenia is associated with other aspects of cognition, how the impairment fluctuates with acuity or chronicity of the schizophrenic disorder, and how this affects the patients' use of language and social behavior. In addition to these potential research areas, future studies may also address whether patients could benefit from cognitive training in this domain.
Martine Brune
There is evidence that groups of people with schizophrenia have deficits in Theory of Mind (ToM) capabilities. Previous studies have found these to be linked to psychotic symptoms (or psychotic symptom severity) particularly the presence of delusions and hallucinations. A visual joke ToM paradigm was employed where subjects were asked to describe two types of cartoon images, those of a purely Physical nature and those requiring inferences of mental states for interpretation, and to grade them for humour and difficulty. Twenty individuals with a DSM-lV diagnosis of schizophrenia and 20 healthy matched controls were studied. Severity of current psychopathology was measured using the Krawiecka standardized scale of psychotic symptoms. IQ was estimated using the Ammons and Ammons quick test. Individuals with schizophrenia performed significantly worse than controls in both conditions, this difference being most marked in the ToM condition. No relationship was found for poor ToM performance and psychotic positive symptomatology, specifically delusions and hallucinations. There was evidence for a compromised ToM capability in the schizophrenia group on this visual joke task. In this instance this could not be linked to particular symptomatology.
Dominic Marjoram et al
A belief is representation of the world, a picture in the head. If this representation matches up with the world, then the belief is true. False beliefs misrepresent the world. We automatically infer mental states from people's behaviour.
Shamim Khaliq
From Autism Europe's Congress 2000
J. Blackburn et al
When does a theory of mind develop in children? what would it be like to lack a theory of mind? why do we think about other people's thoughts at all?
Cassandre Creswell
The basic difference seems to be: NT Theory of Mind = Everyone thinks like me, except when shown to be otherwise. Autistic Theory of Mind = Everyone thinks differently from me -- vastly and mysteriously -- except when shown to be otherwise.
Amanda Baggs, Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical
Sally has a marble. She puts her marble into the box, and then she goes outside. Anne comes in, takes the marble out of the box, and puts it in her basket. When Sally comes back, where will she look for the marble?
Oliver Morton, Wired Magazine
Children with autism have specific difficulties understanding complex mental states like thought, belief, and false belief and their effects on behaviour. Such children benefit from focused teaching, where beliefs are likened to photographs-in-the-head. Here two studies, one with seven participants and one with 10, tested a picture-in-the-head strategy for dealing with thoughts and behaviour by teaching children with autism about cartoon thought-bubbles as a device for representing such mental states. This prosthetic device led children with autism to pass not only false belief tests, but also related theory of mind tests. These results confirm earlier findings of the efficacy of picture-in-the-head teaching about mental states, but go further in showing that thought-bubble training more easily extends to children's understanding of thoughts (not just behaviour) and to enhanced performance on several transfer tasks. Thought-bubbles provide a theoretically interesting as well as an especially easy and effective teaching technique.
Henry Wellman, Simon Baron-Cohen et al
In order to know about our environment, you have to have information about it, and to do this, you need to see it. It is this link between knowing and seeing that is not understood by small children or those with autism.
Sanjida O'Connell
Recent representations of autism frequently include an assumption that autism is the result of a "theory of mind" deficit (i.e., an inability to understand others' mental states). This notion is examined using a social constructionist perspective. The belief that autism is a sort of "mind-blindness" has much in common with earlier representations of autism that depict it as a puzzle and, paradoxically, as a single entity defined by core characteristics. Theory of mind theorists also, like their predecessors, define autism as a form of insufficiency and as requiring fixing rather than accommodation. Alternative narratives about autistic minds that incorporate the perspectives of people labeled autistic are an important counterbalance to the limitations of such professional viewpoints.
David Smukler
This study aimed to establish whether or not young children and young people with autism can understand the mental state of intention. Subjects were exposed to personal experience of unintended outcomes, to test if they could distinguish intended vs unintended actions. Recognising accidental outcomes was more difficult for normal 4 year olds than 5 year olds, and more difficult for young people with autism, compared with comparison groups. Such findings suggest that the theory of mind deficit observed in people with autism is not restricted to understanding epistemic states, but also extends to understanding intention.The results are also compatible with an action-monitoring deficit.
W. Phillips, Simon Baron-Cohen, Rutter
Thought-bubble training more easily extends to children's understanding of thoughts (not just behavior) and extends to enhanced performance on several transfer tasks.
H. Wellman, Simon Baron-Cohen, R. Caswell, J.-C. Gomez, John Swettenham, Toye
Brother Juniper was well known for his literal interpretation of the Franciscan virtues of poverty and charity and would give away all his clothes and once even cut the bells off the altar cloth to give to a poor woman.
Sanjida O'Connell
Children were tested on a series of tasks utilizing the pictorial convention of thought bubbles. In the first study, children with autism (mean verbal mental age 7:6 years) successfully interpreted thought bubbles as representational devices that could be used (a) to infer an unknown reality and (b) to inform them about the content of false beliefs. In the second study, children with autism (mean VMA 5:7 years) and children with non-specific learning disabilities (mean VMA 4:9 years) were tested on two false belief tasks which depicted the content of a protagonist's belief encapsulated in a thought bubble and two that did not. In both groups, performance was improved in the 'bubble condition'. It appears that at least some children with autism are capable of understanding thought bubbles as representational devices.
Sarah Parsons, Peter Mitchell
If one looks closely at the false belief task, one can show that inhibition and planning are actually important skills that can be used to pass TOM tests.
Wilson Joe
According to the theory-theory account of understanding other minds, children develop a succession of theories of mind that, just like scientific theories, postulate abstract coherent mental entities and laws, and provide predictions, interpretations and explanations. These, in turn, enable them to interact successfully with other people. Individuals with autism or Asperger's syndrome are said to be unable to theorize about other minds, resulting in difficulties in relating to the people around them. This paper explores the possibility that we can reconceptualize the assumed relationship from the other direction, proposing that it is misleading to construe the task of achieving social understanding as a logical, scientific one. Rather, it will be suggested that typical children do not have to theorize that there are minds as they can immediately experience other people's intentions and feelings within their affective, co-regulated interactions with them. High-functioning individuals with autism, on the other hand, do need to engage in theorizing about mind if they are to bridge the gap that exists between themselves and other people. In support of this argument, this paper presents findings from an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) of ten published autobiographical accounts written by individuals diagnosed with either high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome.
Emma Williams
The paper reports some preliminary findings of a project which has investigated the areas of young children's development of a representational theory of mind and peer popularity. While correlations between these areas were identified in earlier research, this paper explores the issue of popularity among peers in greater detail and over a longer period of time and compares a broader range of data with children's performance on a series of theory of mind tasks.
Sue Dockett, Sheila Degotardi, Diane Szarkowicz and Fiona Rovers
Three studies were done to determine when children begin to understand people's intentions as mental-representational states (Searle's prior intentions) and as instantiated in purposive, goal-directed behaviors (Searle's intentions-in-action) that are distinguishable both from the people's desires or preferences and from the outcomes of the actions their intentions engender. Three- and four-year-olds were presented with stories in which the story characters' intentions differed both from their desires or preferences and from the outcomes of their efforts to carry out their intentions. The 3-year-olds, especially the younger ones, showed little ability to distinguish intentions from desires and outcomes. In contrast, most of the 4-year-olds were able to make these distinctions consistently. These and other recent differential studies suggest that children begin to develop a differentiated conception of intention at around 3 1/2 or 4 years of age.
Kristin Feinfield, Patti Lee, Eleanor Flavell, Frances Green, John Flavell

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