Baron-Cohen et al (Autism)

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Background

Simon Baron-Cohen and others had done earlier research which demonstrated that children with autism had difficulties with first and second order tests, such as the Sally Anne test. However, other research suggests that adults with autism and Asperger syndrome can pass these tests.

Further research by Happe has demonstrated that adults with autism and Asperger syndrome had problems passing the strange stories task which involved participants understanding another persons mental state.

Because the first and second order tests, as well as the strange stories task, were designed for children, Baron Cohen et al developed a new test called the  Eyes Task.  This advanced test aims to discover if high functioning adults with autism and Asperger syndrome do have problems with mind reading which it is argued is related to the ability to employ a theory of mind.

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Aim

The main aim of this experiment was to investigate if high functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome would be impaired in the Eyes Task.

The researchers were also interested to find out if females would be better than males on the Eyes Task.

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Sample

There were 3 groups of participents:

Group 1- 

  • 16 participents (13 male & 3 female)  
  • Had Autism or  Asperger Syndrome
  • Recruited using an advert in the National Autistic Society magazine as well as through clinics.

Group 2- 

  •  50 age-matched controls (25 male & 25 female)
  • 'Normal' - no history of psychiatric disorder and presumed to be of normal intelligence
  • They were selected randomly from the subject panel held in the University Department.

Group 3- 

  • 10 aged matched participants (8 male & 2 female)
  • Had Tourette syndrome but a normal intelligence
  • Recruited from a referral centre in London
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Variables

Independent Variable (IV)-

  • The type of participent used (Autism/Aspergers or Tourette or Normal)

Dependent Variable (DV)-

  • The performance on the advanced test of theory of mind (eyes task).

Control Variables-

  • Inteligence
  • Gender
  • Developmental disorders
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Procedures

The Eyes Task, the Strange Stories Task, and the two control tasks were presented in random order, to all participants and they were tested individually in a quiet room either in their own home, in a researchers clinic, or at a lab at the University.

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Procedures - Eyes Task

The Eyes Task comprises of photographs of the eye region of 25 different male and female faces. The photographs were taken from magazines and were standardised in that they were all black and white, all from the same region of the face (from midway along the nose to just above the eyebrow) and all of the same size.

Each picture was shown for three seconds and participants were given a forced choice question between two mental states printed under each picture. The foil word was always the semantic opposite of the correct word. The Experimenter says to the subject" Which word best describes what this person is feeling or thinking?" The maximum score on this test is 25. Examples of the words include: Concerned/Unconcerned, Relaxed/Worried and Calm/Anxious. 

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Procedures - Gender Recongnition Task

The Gender Recognition Task involved looking at the same sets of eyes in the eye task, but this time identifying the gender of the person in each photograph. This also had a maximum score of 25.

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Procedures - Basic Emotion Recognition Task

The Basic Emotion Recognition Task (Emotion Task) involved judging photographs of whole faces displaying the basic emotions. 6 faces were used, testing the following basic emotions: happy, sad, angry, afraid, disgusted, and surprised.

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Results & Findings - Eyes Task

As predicted high functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome did have more difficulties with the Eye Task than both normal adults and adults with Tourette syndrome.

Condition Mean score on the Eye Task Adults with autism or Asperger syndrome 16.3 'Normal' adults 20.3 Adults with Tourette syndrome 20.4

It was also found that normal adult males had more difficulties with the Eye Task than normal adult females.

Condition Mean score on the Eye Task 'Normal' males 18.8 'Normal' females 21.8

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Results & Findings - Gender and Emotion Tasks

There were no diferences between the different groups, meaning that they all performed equally on these tasks.

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Evaluation - Control

There were lots of contol variables in this study, such as gender and intelligence meaning that the researchers were able to ensure that the differences between the scores of the three groups of participants were something to do with being autistic.

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Evaluation - Standardised

The experiment was standardised in the way that every participant was tested in the same way. The use of standardised procedures in the way the photographs were presented ensured that the researchers could claim with some certainty that the independent variable which is the characteristics of autism was causing the dependent variable that is performance on the Eye Task.

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Evaluation- Quantitative Data

The experiment also collected quantitative data in the form of scores on the Eye Tasks enabling the researchers to carry out sophisticated statistical analysis of the results.

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Evaluation- Ecological Validity

This study can be seen to lack ecological validity because some of the participants were tested in lab meanig it is not a true real life setting.

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