Argument that Autism is Characterized by the Lack of Theory of Mind

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Autism is a rare developmental disorder that affects approximately four in every ten thousand children (Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith, 1985). Employing a clinical perspective, Kanner (1943) (as cited in Sachs, 1995) was the first to provide a description on the disorder of autism. However, in the 1970s, Wing (1970) (as cited in Sachs, 1995) applied a cognitive perspective in describing the mental structure of autism. This essay will therefore argue that autism is characterized by the lack of theory of mind (Premack & Woodruff, 1978, as cited in Baron-Cohen et al., 1985), which is a cognitive mechanism. It will further outline empirical evidence derived from the review of two studies, collectively known as false belief tasks. The Sally-Anne…show more content…
Another trial was preformed, where conditions were changed, and included an additional location (experimenter’s pocket) to where the participants could point. The outcome for this study indicated that all subjects passed the naming, reality and memory questions. For the belief question, 85% of normal preschool and 86% of Down syndrome subjects passed both trials. However, only 20% of the autistic group passed the tested question (Baron-Cohen et al. 1985).

Interpretation of these results indicates the vast majority of normal preschool and Down syndrome children could contrast between what they see to be true and what the doll sees to be false. However, the 15% of preschool and 14% of Down syndrome children who failed the belief question need to be taken into account. It may be concluded that at the time of testing, the proportion of preschool children had not yet developed the complete theory of mind, which is a mechanism required to succeed in this study. Also, it can be assumed that the proportion of Down syndrome subjects who failed, simply did not fully understand the question being asked as they have a below average IQ range. Other possible reasons for the two control groups to fail on the belief question may be that they comprehended the question as ambiguous. For example, when asked the belief question, the proportion of the control groups who failed, could have registered
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