Autism-theory of mind Essay

This essay has a total of 1121 words and 5 pages.

autism-theory of mind


Autism is a rare developmental disorder that affects approximately four in every ten
thousand children (Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith, 1985). Employing a clinical perspective,
Kanner (1943) (as cited in Sachs, 1995) was the first to provide a description on the
disorder of autism. However, in the 1970s, Wing (1970) (as cited in Sachs, 1995) applied a
cognitive perspective in describing the mental structure of autism. This essay will
therefore argue that autism is characterised by the lack of theory of mind (Premack &
Woodruff, 1978, as cited in Baron-Cohen et al., 1985), which is a cognitive mechanism. It
will further outline empirical evidence derived from the review of two studies,
collectively known as false belief tasks. The Sally-Anne task and the Smarties task, in
particular, will be discussed and interpreted in support with the arguing thesis.

There is no true causal definition of autism at a biological level, however, autism has
been recognised to be a developmental disability affecting cognitive processing (Frith,
1997). The key behavioural deficits that characterises autism are, the inability to
interact in social situations, impairments with comprehending verbal and non-verbal
communication and the lack of understanding pretend and imaginative play (Wing, 1970, as
cited in Sachs, 1995). Other behavioural characteristics contributing to the diagnosis of
autism are, engagement in repetitive automatic movements and activities, preference to be
alone, displays of self-destruction and aggressive behaviour, sensitivity to external
stimuli, attacks of anxiety, and some display savant abilities (Sachs, 1995; Frith, 1997).

Baron-Cohen et al. (1985) applied Wimmer and Perner's (1983) puppet play paradigm to test
the hypothesis that autistic children are unable to attribute beliefs to others and are
incapable of representing mental states. The participants comprised of 20 autistic
children, 14 children with Down syndrome, and 27 normal preschool children. The procedure
for this false belief task included setting up two doll protagonists, Sally and Anne.
Initially, a naming question was asked to ensure participants could distinguish between
the dolls. Sally then placed a marble in her basket. Sally exited the scene, and Anne
takes the marble from Sally's basket and placed it in her box. Sally later returned, and
the test question asked by the experimenter was "Where will Sally look for her marble?"
(Baron-Cohen et al., 1985, p.41). The subjects also had to answer two control questions: a
reality control question and a memory control question. Another trial was preformed, where
conditions were changed, and included an additional location (experimenter's pocket) to
where the participants could point. The outcome for this study indicated that all subjects
passed the naming, reality and memory questions. For the belief question, 85% of normal
preschool and 86% of Down syndrome subjects passed both trials. However, only 20% of the
autistic group passed the tested question (Baron-Cohen et al. 1985).

Interpretation of these results indicates the vast majority of normal preschool and Down
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