We use a new model of metarepresentational development to predict a cognitive deficit which could explain a crucial component of the social impairment in childhood autism. One of the manifestations of a basic metarepresentational capacity is a ‘ theory of mind ’. We have reason to believe that autistic children lack such a ‘ theory ’. If this were so, then they would be unable to impute beliefs to others and to predict their behaviour. This hypothesis was tested using Wimmer (...) and Perner’s puppet play paradigm. Normal children and those with Down’s syndrome were used as controls for a group of autistic children. Even though the mental age of the autistic children was higher than that of the controls, they alone failed to impute beliefs to others. Thus the dysfunction we have postulated and demonstrated is independent of mental retardation and specific to autism. (shrink)
Mentalizing refers to our ability to read the mental states of other agents and engages many neural processes. The brain's mirror system allows us to share the emotions of others. Through perspective taking, we can infer what a person currently believes about the world given their point of view. Finally, the human brain has the unique ability to represent the mental states of the self and the other and the relationship between these mental states, making possible the communication of ideas.
Autism provides a model for exploring the nature of self‐consciousness: self‐consciousness requires the ability to reflect on mental states, and autism is a disorder with a specific impairment in the neurocognitive mechanism underlying this ability. Experimental studies of normal and abnormal development suggest that the abilities to attribute mental states to self and to others are closely related. Thus inability to pass standard ‘theory of mind’ tests, which refer to others’ false beliefs, may imply lack of self‐consciousness. Individuals who persistently (...) fail these tests may, in the extreme, be unable to reflect on their intentions or to anticipate their own actions. In contrast, individuals with high‐functioning autism or Asperger syndrome often possess a late‐acquired, explicit theory of mind, which appears to be the result of effortful learning. An experimental study with three people with Asperger syndrome suggested that level of performance on standard theory of mind tasks was strongly related to the ability to engage in introspection. Qualitative differences in the introspections of high‐functioning people with autism are also reflected in autobiographical accounts which may give a glimpse of what it is like to be autistic. (shrink)
In this paper, we attempt to make a distinction between egocentrism and allocentrism in social cognition, based on the distinction that is made in visuo-spatial perception. We propose that it makes a difference to mentalizing whether the other person can be understood using an egocentric (‘‘you'') or an allocentric (‘‘he/ she/they'') stance. Within an egocentric stance, the other person is represented in relation to the self. By contrast, within an allocentric stance, the existence or mental state of the other person (...) needs to be represented as independent from the self. We suggest here that people with Asperger syndrome suffer from a disconnection between a strong naı¨ve egocentric stance and a highly abstract allocentric stance. We argue that the currently used distinction between first-person and third-person perspective-taking is orthogonal to the distinction between an egocentric and an allocentric stance and therefore cannot serve as a critical test of allocentrism. (shrink)
Autism: Mind and Brain provides a comprehensive overview of the latest research on autism and highlights new techniques that will progress future understanding. With contributions from leaders in autism research, the book describes the latest advances, discusses ways forward for future research, and presents new techniques for understanding this complex disorder.
Why do many autistic people develop outstanding abilities in domains like drawing, music, computation, and reading? What aspects of autism predispose some to talent? This book explores the origin and prevalence of exceptional talent, its basis in the brain, the current theories, and the representation of talent and autism in biography and fiction.
We challenge the notion that differences in spatial ability are the best or only explanation for observed sex differences in mathematical word problems. We suggest two ideas from the study of autism: sex differences in theory of mind and in central coherence.
The choice to cooperate or compete with others confronts us on a daily basis, and it is plausible that we use our mentalising skills to aid decision-making in such situations. We investigated the relationship between mentalising and decision-making in the prisoner's dilemma in adults with autism spectrum disorders , who show impaired mentalising, and normal adults. After completion of three versions of the prisoner's dilemma, we conducted a semi-structured interview. This interview attempted to elicit a participant's spontaneous strategy when playing (...) each version of the game, as well as on their conception of the nature and strategy choice of their opponents . Contrary to expectations, the behavioural choices of the adults with and without ASD were quantitatively similar, as were the qualitative responses to questions used in the interview. The consistency of the evidence from both measures suggests that mentalising ability was not involved in selecting the choices made in these prisoner's dilemma tasks. Instead they suggest the hypothesis that a purely logical strategy may have been adopted. The introspections of at least a subgroup of high-functioning individuals with ASD can on the whole be trusted and this use of mixed methods strengthens the validity of the conclusions drawn. (shrink)