The Boundaries of the Cognitive Phenotype of Autism: Theory of Mind, Central Coherence and Ambiguous Figure Perception in Young People with Autistic Traits

  • Catherine S. Best
  • Vivien J. Moffat
  • Michael J. Power
  • David G. C. Owens
  • Eve C. Johnstone
Original Paper

Abstract

Theory of Mind, Weak Central Coherence and executive dysfunction, were investigated as a function of behavioural markers of autism. This was irrespective of the presence or absence of a diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder. Sixty young people completed the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), false belief tests, the block design test, viewed visual illusions and an ambiguous figure. A logistic regression was performed and it was found that Theory of Mind, central coherence and ambiguous figure variables significantly contributed to prediction of behavioural markers of autism. These findings provide support for the continuum hypothesis of autism. That is, mild autistic behavioural traits are distributed through the population and these behavioural traits may have the same underlying cognitive determinants as autistic disorder.

Keywords

Autistic spectrum Continuum Theory of Mind Central coherence Ambiguous figures 

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  2. 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.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., et al. (1985). Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind’? Cognition, 21, 37–46.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., et al. (2001). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 5–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berument, S. K., Rutter, M., Lord, C., et al. (1999). Autism screening questionnaire: Diagnostic validity. British Journal of Psychiatry, 175, 444–451.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bialystok, E., & Shapero, D. (2005). Ambiguous benefits: The effect of bilingualism on reversing ambiguous figures. Developmental Science, 8, 595.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. CACI. (2003). ACORN http://www.caci.co.uk/acorn/
  9. Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act. In 2004 asp 4. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/acts2004/20040004.htm.
  10. Gopnik, A., & Rosati, A. (2001). Duck or rabbit? Reversing ambiguous figures and understanding ambiguous representations. Developmental Science, 4, 175–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Happé, F. (1996). Studying weak central coherence at low levels: Children with autism do not succumb to visual illusions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 873–877.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 5–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Happé, F., Ronald, A., & Plomin, R. (2006). Time to give up on a single explanation for autism. Nature Neuroscience, 9, 1218–1220.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Johnstone, E. C., Owens, D. G., Hoare, P., et al. (2007). Schizotypal cognitions as a predictor of psychopathology in adolescents with mild intellectual impairment. British Journal of Psychiatry (in press).Google Scholar
  15. Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous child, 2, 217–250.Google Scholar
  16. Kunihira, Y., Senju, A., Dairoku, H., et al. (2006). ‘Autistic’ traits in non-autistic Japanese populations: Relationships with personality traits and cognitive ability. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(4), 553–566.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lord C, Risi S, Lambrecht L, et al. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(3), 205–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Medical Research Council. (2001). MRC review of autism research: Epidemiology and causes. Medical Research Council.Google Scholar
  19. Miller, P., Byrne, M., Hodges, A., et al. (2002). Schizotypal components in people at high risk of developing schizophrenia: Early findings from the Edinburgh high-risk study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 179–184.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ropar, D., & Mitchell, P. (1999). Are individuals with autism and Asperger’s syndrome susceptible to visual illusions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 1283–1293.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ropar, D., & Mitchell, P. (2001). Susceptibility to illusions and performance on visuospatial tasks in individuals with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 539–549.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ropar, D., Mitchell, P., & Ackroyd, K. (2003). Do children with autism find it difficult to offer alternative interpretations to ambiguous figures? British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 21, 387–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Russell J. (Ed). (1997). Autism as an executive disorder. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Shah, A., & Frith, U. (1993). Why do autistic individuals show superior performance on the block design task? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 34, 1351–1364.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sobel, D. M., Capps, L., & Gopnik, A. (2005). Ambiguous figure perception and theory of mind understanding in children with autistic spectrum disorders. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 23, 159–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wechsler, D. (1992). Wechsler intelligence scale for children (3rd ed.). London: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  27. Wechsler, D. (1999). Wechsler adult intelligence scale (3rd ed.). London: Harcourt Assessment.Google Scholar
  28. Wing, L. (1988). Autism: Possible clues to the underlying pathology: 1. clinical facts. In L. Wing (Ed.), Aspects of autism-biological research. London: Gaskell.Google Scholar
  29. Yirmiya, N., Erel, O., Shaked, M., & Solomonica-Levi, D. (1998). Meta-analyses comparing theory of mind abilities of individuals with autism, individuals with mental retardation, and normally developing individuals. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 283–307.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine S. Best
    • 1
  • Vivien J. Moffat
    • 1
  • Michael J. Power
    • 1
    • 2
  • David G. C. Owens
    • 1
  • Eve C. Johnstone
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of PsychiatryUniversity of Edinburgh, Royal Edinburgh HospitalEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Clinical Psychology, School of Health in Social ScienceThe University of Edinburgh Medical SchoolEdinburghUK

Personalised recommendations