Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 129–154 | Cite as

An advanced test of theory of mind: Understanding of story characters' thoughts and feelings by able autistic, mentally handicapped, and normal children and adults

  • Francesca G. E. Happé
Article

Abstract

Research has suggested that the core handicaps of autism result from a specific impairment in theory of mind (ToM). However, this account has been challenged by the finding that a minority of autistic subjects pass 1st- and even 2nd-order ToM tests while remaining socially handicapped. In the present study, able autistic subjects who failed ToM tasks, those who passed 1st-order, and those who passed 2nd-order tasks were tested with a battery of more naturalistic and complex stories. Autistic subjects were impaired at providing context-appropriate mental state explanations for the story characters' nonliteral utterances, compared to normal and mentally handicapped controls. Performance on the stories was closely related to performance on standard ToM tasks, but even those autistic subjects who passed all ToM tests showed impairments on the more naturalistic story materials relative to normal adult controls.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Baron-Cohen, S. (1989). The autistic child's theory of mind: A case of specific developmental delay.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 285–297.Google Scholar
  2. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind’?Cognition, 21, 37–46.Google Scholar
  3. Bowler, D. M. (1992). Theory of mind in Asperger's syndrome.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 877–893.Google Scholar
  4. Brownell, H. H., Michel, D., Powelson, J., & Gardner, H. (1983). Surprise but not coherence; sensitivity to verbal humour in right hemisphere patients.Brain and Language, 18, 20–27.Google Scholar
  5. Bryan, K. L. (1988). Assessment of language disorders after right hemisphere damage.British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 23, 111–125.Google Scholar
  6. Frith, U. (1989).Autism: Explaining the enigma. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Frith, U., Morton, J., & Leslie, A. M. (1991). The cognitive basis of a biological disorder: Autism.Trends in Neuroscience, 14, 433–438.Google Scholar
  8. Happé, F. G. E. (1991). The autobiographical writings of three Asperger Syndrome adults: Problems of interpretation and implications for theory. In U. Frith (Ed.),Autism and Asperger syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Happé, F. G. E. (1993). Communication and theory of mind in autism: A test of relevance theory.Cognition., 48, 101–119.Google Scholar
  10. Happé, F. G. E. (in preparation a). Does the autistic child ever have a theory of mind? Explaining the success of the “talented minority.”Google Scholar
  11. Happé, F. G. E. (in preparation b). The homograph task: A test of weak central coherence in autism.Google Scholar
  12. Hobson, R. P. (1989). Beyond cognition: A theory of autism. In G. Dawson (Ed.),Autism: Nature, diagnosis and treatment. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  13. Hobson, R. P. (1990). On acquiring knowledge about people, and the capacity to pretend: A response to Leslie.Psychological Review, 97, 114–121.Google Scholar
  14. Kaplan, J. A., Brownell, H. H., Jacobs, J. R., & Gardner, H. (1990). The effects of right hemisphere damage on the pragmatic interpretation of conversational remarks.Brain and Language, 38, 315–333.Google Scholar
  15. Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretence and representation: The origins of “Theory of Mind.”Psychological Review, 94, 412–426.Google Scholar
  16. Leslie, A. M. (1988). Some implications of pretence for mechanisms underlying the child's theory of mind. In J. W. Astington, P. L. Harris, & D. R. Olson (Eds.),Developing Theories of Mind. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1988). Autistic children's understanding of seeing, knowing, and believing.British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 6, 315–324.Google Scholar
  18. Ozonoff, S., Rogers, S. J., & Pennington, B. F. (1991). Asperger's syndrome: Evidence of an empirical distinction from high-functioning autism.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1107–1122.Google Scholar
  19. Perner, J., Frith, U., Leslie, A. M., & Leekam, S. R. (1989). Exploration of the autistic child's theory of mind: knowledge, belief, and communication.Child Development, 60, 689–700.Google Scholar
  20. Sodian, B., & Frith, U. (1992). Deception and sabotage in autistic, retarded and normal children.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 591–605.Google Scholar
  21. Tager-Flusberg, H. (1989).An analysis of discourse ability and internal stale lexicons in a longitudinal study of autistic children. Paper presented at the Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Kansas City, MO.Google Scholar
  22. Tager-Flusberg, H. (1992). Autistic children's talk about psychological states: deficits in the early acquisition of a theory of mind.Child Development, 63, 161–172.Google Scholar
  23. Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: representation and the constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children's understanding of deception.Cognition, 13, 103–128.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesca G. E. Happé
    • 1
  1. 1.MRC Cognitive Development UnitLondonEngland

Personalised recommendations