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Approximating Implicit and Explicit Mentalizing with Two Naturalistic Video-Based Tasks in Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorder


Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been proposed to show greater impairments in implicit than explicit mentalizing. To test this proposition, we developed two comparable naturalistic tasks for a performance-based approximation of implicit and explicit mentalizing in 28 individuals with ASD and 23 matched typically developed (TD) participants. Although both tasks were sensitive to the social impairments of individuals with ASD, implicit mentalizing was not more dysfunctional than explicit mentalizing. In TD participants, performance on the tasks did not correlate with each other, whereas in individuals with ASD they were highly correlated. These findings suggest that implicit and explicit mentalizing processes are separable in typical development. In contrast, in individuals with ASD implicit and explicit mentalizing processes are similarly impaired and closely linked suggesting a lack of developmental specification of these processes in ASD.

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We thank Joerg Schulze, member of the Computer and Media Service team (CMS) at the Humboldt University, for his advice and support with the production and postproduction of the film stimuli and the actors. We also thank our student research assistants for their help with the stimulus production and data acquisition. In addition, we would like especially our participants on the autism spectrum for their participation in the study. This work was supported by a Grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG; EXC 302).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Gabriela Rosenblau.

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Rosenblau, G., Kliemann, D., Heekeren, H.R. et al. Approximating Implicit and Explicit Mentalizing with Two Naturalistic Video-Based Tasks in Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 45, 953–965 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2249-9

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  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Cognition
  • Mentalizing
  • Behavioral assessment
  • Implicit