Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 225–236

The Awkward Moments Test: A Naturalistic Measure of Social Understanding in Autism

  • Lisa Heavey
  • Wendy Phillips
  • Simon Baron-Cohen
  • Michael Rutter
Article

Abstract

Details are given of a new advanced theory of mind task, developed to approximate the demands of real-life mentalizing in able individuals with autism. Excerpts of films showing characters in social situations were presented, with participants required to answer questions on characters' mental states and on control, nonsocial questions. When compared with control participants, adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome were most impaired in their ability to answer the questions requiring mind-reading ability. Although the present findings have implications for task modification, such naturalistic, dynamic stimuli are held to offer an important means of studying subtle difficulties in mentalistic understanding.

Theory of mind mind-reading ability 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (1980). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  3. Bailey, A., Le Couteur, A., Gottesman, I., Bolton, P., Simonoff, E., Yuzda, E., & Rutter, M. (1995). Autism as a strongly genetic disorder: Evidence from a British twin study. Psychological Medicine, 25, 63–77.Google Scholar
  4. Bailey, A., Palferman, S., Heavey, L., & Le Couteur, A. (1998). Autism: the phenotype in relatives. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28, 369–392.Google Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S. (1989a). The autistic child's theory of mind: A case of specific developmental delay? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 285–298.Google Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S. (1989b). Are autistic children behaviorists? An examination of their mental-physical and appearance-reality distinctions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19, 579–600.Google Scholar
  7. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books.Google Scholar
  8. Baron-Cohen, S., & Hammer, J. (1997). Parents of children with Asperger syndrome: What is the cognitive phenotype? Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 548–554.Google Scholar
  9. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 37–46.Google Scholar
  10. Baron-Cohen, S., Jolliffe, T., Mortimore, C., & Robertson, M. (1997). Another advanced test of theory of mind: evidence from very high functioning adults with autism of Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 813–822.Google Scholar
  11. Bauminger, N., & Kasari, C. (1999). Brief report: Theory of mind in high-functioning children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 1, 81–86.Google Scholar
  12. Bolton, P., MacDonald, H., Pickles, A., Rios, P., Goode, S., Crowson, M., Bailey, A., & Rutter, M. (1994). A case-control family history study of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 877–900.Google Scholar
  13. Bowler, D. (1992). “Theory of mind” in Asperger's syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 877–893.Google Scholar
  14. Courchesne, E., Townsend, J., Akshoomoff, N.A., Saitoh, O., Yeung-Courchesne, R., Lincoln, A.J., James, H.E., Haas, R.H., Schriebman, L. & Lau, L. (1994). Impairment in shifting attention in autistic and cerebellar patients. Behavioral Neuroscience, 108, 848–865.Google Scholar
  15. Cramer, D. (1994). Introductory statistics for social research: Stepby-step calculations and computer techniques using SPSS. Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Crawford, J., Allan, K., & Jack, A. (1992). Short forms of the UK WAIS-R: Regression equations and their predictive validity in a general population sample. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 31, 191–202.Google Scholar
  17. Frith, U. (1989). Autism: Explaining the enigma. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Frith, U., & Snowling, M. (1983). Reading for meaning and reading for sound in autistic and dyslexic children. Journal of Developmental Psychology, 1, 329–342.Google Scholar
  19. Happé, F. (1994a). Autism: An introduction to psychological theory. UCL Press.Google Scholar
  20. Happé, F. (1994b). An advanced test of theory of mind: Understanding of story characters' thoughts and feelings by able autistic, mentally handicapped, and normal children and adults. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 129–154.Google Scholar
  21. Happé, F. (1994c). Wechsler IQ profile and theory of mind in autism: a research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35(8):1461–1471.Google Scholar
  22. Happé, F. (1995). The role of age and verbal ability in the theory of mind task performance of subjects with autism. Child Development, 66, 843–855.Google Scholar
  23. Happé, F., Briskman, J., & Frith, U. (1998). Exploring the cognitive phenotype of autism: Weak central coherence in parents and siblings of children with autism. Paper presented at BPS Developmental Section Conference, Lancaster.Google Scholar
  24. Happé, F., Winner, E., & Brownell, H. (1998). The getting of wisdom: Theory of mind in old age. Developmental Psychology, 34, 358–362.Google Scholar
  25. Heavey, L., Phillips, W., & Rutter, M. (1999). Theory of mind, executive function and central coherence in high-functioning autism. Manuscript in preparation.Google Scholar
  26. Hughes, C., Russell, J., & Robbins, T. (1994). Evidence for executive dysfunction in autism. Neuropsychologia, 32, 477–492.Google Scholar
  27. Hughes, C., Leboyer, M., & Bouvard, M. (1997). Executive function in parents of children with autism. Psychological Medicine, 27, 209–220.Google Scholar
  28. Hughes, C., Plumet, M-H, & Leboyer, M. (1999). Towards a cognitive phenotype for autism: siblings show strong span and weak executive function. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40(5), 705–718.Google Scholar
  29. Le Couteur, A., Rutter, M., Lord, C., Rios, P., Robertson, S., Holdgrafer, M. & McLennan, J. (1989). Autism Diagnostic Interview: A standardized investigator-based instrument. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19, 363–387.Google Scholar
  30. Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1988). Autistic children's understanding of seeing, knowing and believing. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 6, 315–324.Google Scholar
  31. Ozonoff, S., Rogers, S. J., & Pennington, B. F. (1991). Asperger's syndrome: Evidence of an empirical distinction from highfunctioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1107–1122.Google Scholar
  32. Ozonoff, S., Rogers, S., Farnham, J., & Pennington, B. (1993). Can standard measures identify subclinical markers of autism? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 429–441.Google Scholar
  33. Piven, J., & Palmer, P. (1997). Cognitive deficits in parents from multiple-incidence autism families. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 1011–1022.Google Scholar
  34. Rutter, M. (1978). Diagnosis and definition. In M. Rutter & E. Schopler (Eds), Autism: A reappraisal of concepts and treatment. New York Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  35. Sodian, B., & Frith, U. (1992). Deception and Sabotage in autistic, retarded and normal children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(3) 591–605.Google Scholar
  36. Sparrevohn, R., & Howie, P. (1995). Theory of mind in children with autistic disorder: Evidence of developmental progression and the role of verbal ability. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 36, 249–263.Google Scholar
  37. 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
  38. Volkmar, F. R., Klin, A., & Cohen, D. (1997). Diagnosis and classification of autism and related conditions: consensus and issues. In D. J. Cohen & F. R. Volkmar (Eds), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders (2nd ed.). Wiley.Google Scholar
  39. Yirmiya, N., Solomonica-Levi, D., Shulman, C., & Pilowsky, T. (1996). Theory of mind abilities in individuals with autism, Down Syndrome, and mental retardation of unknown etiology: The role of age and intelligence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 1003–1014.Google Scholar
  40. Wechsler, D. (1981). Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales-Revised. The Psychology Corporation: New York.Google Scholar
  41. World Health Organization. (1992). The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioral disorders: Clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: Author.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Heavey
    • 1
  • Wendy Phillips
    • 2
  • Simon Baron-Cohen
    • 3
  • Michael Rutter
    • 4
  1. 1.MRC Child Psychiatry UnitInstitute of PsychiatryLondonEngland
  2. 2.South Warwickshire Combined Care Nhsationed Health Service TrustEngland
  3. 3.University of CambridgeCambridgeUnited Kingdom
  4. 4.MRC Child Psychiatry UnitInstitute of PsychiatryLondonEngland

Personalised recommendations