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Argument That Autism Is Characterized By The Lack Of Theory Of Mind

1102 words - 4 pages

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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 task and the Smarties task, in particular, will be discussed and interpreted in support with the arguing thesis.

There is no true causal definition of autism at a biological level, however, autism has been recognised to be a developmental disability affecting cognitive processing (Frith, 1997). The key behavioural deficits that characterises autism are, the inability to interact in social situations, impairments with comprehending verbal and non-verbal communication and the lack of understanding pretend and imaginative play (Wing, 1970, as cited in Sachs, 1995). Other behavioural characteristics contributing to the diagnosis of autism are, engagement in repetitive automatic movements and activities, preference to be alone, displays of self-destruction and aggressive behaviour, sensitivity to external stimuli, attacks of anxiety, and some display savant abilities (Sachs, 1995; Frith, 1997).
Baron-Cohen et al. (1985) applied Wimmer and Perner’s (1983) puppet play paradigm to test the hypothesis that autistic children are unable to attribute beliefs to others and are incapable of representing mental states. The participants comprised of 20 autistic children, 14 children with Down syndrome, and 27 normal preschool children. The procedure for this false belief task included setting up two doll protagonists, Sally and Anne. Initially, a naming question was asked to ensure participants could distinguish between the dolls. Sally then placed a marble in her basket. Sally exited the scene, and Anne takes the marble from Sally’s basket and placed it in her box. Sally later returned, and the test question asked by the experimenter was “Where will Sally look for her marble?” (Baron-Cohen et al., 1985, p.41). The subjects also had to answer two control questions: a reality control question and a memory control question. 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,...

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