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How Easy is it to Read the Minds of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder?


How well can neurotypical adults’ interpret mental states in people with ASD? ‘Targets’ (ASD and neurotypical) reactions to four events were video-recorded then shown to neurotypical participants whose task was to identify which event the target had experienced. In study 1 participants were more successful for neurotypical than ASD targets. In study 2, participants rated ASD targets equally expressive as neurotypical targets for three of the events, while in study 3 participants gave different verbal descriptions of the reactions of ASD and neurotypical targets. It thus seems people with ASD react differently but not less expressively to events. Because neurotypicals are ineffective in interpreting the behaviour of those with ASD, this could contribute to the social difficulties in ASD.

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We are grateful to all the participants who contributed to this research. Thanks also to Yvonne Teoh for help with the data analysis.

Authors Contribution

ES involved in conception and design of 3 studies, data analysis and write-up; DP involved in conception and design of study 1, creation of videos, data collection and analysis of study 1; GTLW involved in conception, design, data collection and analysis of studies 2&3; DR involved in conception and design of study 1 and creation of videos; PM involved in conception and design of 3 studies, data analysis and write-up.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth Sheppard.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. For the video targets, additional informed consent was obtained after debriefing for use of the videos for the research.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Sheppard, E., Pillai, D., Wong, G.TL. et al. How Easy is it to Read the Minds of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder?. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 1247–1254 (2016).

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