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  • Created by: Charlie
  • Created on: 28-10-12 19:40


To test if high functioning autistic adults lacked a Theory of Mind or not.

To see if females performed better than males on the Theory of Mind tests.

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Ceiling Effect

Where the independent variable is no longer effecting the dependent variable. (it is no longer measuring theory of mind).

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Quasi Experiment: Takes advantage of a naturally occurring independent variable.

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Independent Variable - Characteristics of the participants/ the group they were in.

Dependent Variable - The performance on the Eyes Task (advanced test of theory of mind).

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Theory Of Mind

The ability to understand and predict what another person may be thinking or feeling.

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Mind Blindness

The inability to read what others are thinking or feeling.

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Autistic's Difficulties

  • Difficulties with social interaction.
  • Difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • A lack of imagination.
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If Autism is not due to a lack of TOM...

  • Social/Nurture - Poor parenting (NO EVIDENCE)
  • Genetics/Nature - Not sure what but there IS a genetic link.
  • MMR jab - A scare because the jab came before children were diagnosed (NOT TRUE as children can't be diagnosed from an early age, already had autism, nothing to do with jab).
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Sally Anne

First Order Test

  • Sally puts her ball in the basket.
  • Sally goes away.
  • Anne moves the ball from the basket to her box.
  • Where will Sally look for her ball?

Autistic children would be expected to say the box, as whatever they feel/think/know, they expect others to be the same.

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Weaknesses Of The Sally Anne Test

  • Simplistic.
  • Designed to be passed by 'normal' six year olds.
  • Adults with autism and a high/normal IQ may be able to pass it.


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Sample: Group 1

  • 16 participants - 13 men, 3 women.
  • High functioning Autism/ Asperger Syndrome.
  • Normal IQ.
  • Recruited through advertisements in the National Autistic Society Magazine and in clinics. (SELF SELECT SAMPLE - VOLUNTEERED)
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Weaknesses Of Group 1

  • Gender Biased - unrepresentative of normal population - more women than men.
  • Small Sample - less representative of whole population.
  • Volunteered Participants - may share similar characteristics; helpful. not representative of whole population.
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Change to Group 1

Equal number of men and women, example; 25 men and 25 women.

  • No gender bias.
  • Women would be expected to do better than men as normally they have a better theory of mind.
  • The group as a whole would still be expected to have the worst results as they are the autistic group and to support the hypothesis they should lack a theory of mind.
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Sample: Group 2

  • 50 participants - 25 men, 25 women. (age matched with group 1)
  • 'Normal' Group - used as a comparison - no history of any psychiatric disorder.
  • Normal IQ
  • Selected randomly from the subject panel held in the University Department.
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Sample: Group 3

  • 10 Participants - 8 men, 2 women. (age matched with groups 1 and 2)
  • Tourette Syndrome - used to see whether it was purely those with autism who lacked a theory of mind or those with any mental disorder.
  • Normal IQ
  • Recruited from a referral centre in London.
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Material: Experimental Tasks

2 Experimental Tasks

1) Happe's Strange Stories Task (an already established theory of mind task).

  • Involved story comprehension.
  • They key question in the task concerned either:
  • a character's mental state/ way of being (the experimental condition)
  • or physical events (the control condition).

Autistic group performed significantly worse than groups 2 and 3.

2) Eyes Task 

  • Participants were shown 25 Black and White photos of the eye region.
  • They were shown for 3 seconds.
  • 2 forced choice answers: one correct emotion and it's semantic opposite, a foil word.

Autistic group performed significantly worse than groups 2 and 3.

Males performed worse than females.

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Material: Control Tasks

2 Control Tasks

1) Gender Recognition Task

  • Participants were shown the same 25 Black and White photos of the eye region that were used in the Eyes Task.
  • Asked to identify gender.
  • To see if Autistics recognised gender/faces, if they didn't then the Eyes Task would not test a theory of mind.

All participants passed this task. Gender recognition not a confounding variable.

2) Basic Emotion Recognition Task

  • Participants were shown 6 Black and White photos of whole faces.
  • They were asked to identify the basic emotion (happy, sad, shocked etc.)
  • To see whether participants could understand basic emotion, if not could not complete Eyes Task.

All participants passed this task.

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As predicted high functioning adults with autism/ Asperger syndrome had more difficulties with the Eyes Task than 'normal' adults and those with Tourette syndrome.

Those with Autism/Asperger syndrome did not have complete lack of TOM, just less than 'normal'.

Autism/ Asperger - 16.3 (mean score on eyes task)

'Normal' - 20.3 (males - 18.8, females - 21.8)

Tourettes - 20.4

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  • Lack of Theory of Mind is the core deficit of Autism.
  • Males lack TOM skills in comparison to females.
  • The Eyes Task is  valid measure of TOM because the results had a high correlation (concurrent validity) with Strange Stories task (an established measure of TOM). 
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Strengths Of The Experiment

  • Control: Intelligence, sex and developmental disorders controlled.
  • Standardised: every participant tested in the same way.
  • Quantitative: Collected quantitative data enabling researchers to carry out sophisticated statistical analysis of the songs.
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Weaknesses Of The Experiment

  • Ecological Validity: some participants tested at a lab, a strange surrounding. The Eyes Task itself is an unusual task which is much simpler than the demands of real life social situations. (in the real world stimuli not static).
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Changes: More Ecologically Valid

  • Clearer photographs
  • Not black and white
  • Whole faces
  • Film clips
  • Still not 100% ecologically valid as answering questions on such things is not an everyday occurrence
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Similarities Between Baron-Cohen and Savage-Rumbau

  • Both used participants with deficits:

- Savage Rumbaugh used common chimps with poor language skills.

- Baron-Cohen used participants with Tourettes and Autistics.

  • Both have useful practical applications.
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Differences Between Baron-Cohen and Savage-Rumbaug

  • Savage Rumbaugh tested for language.
  • Baron-Cohen tested for TOM.
  • Savage-Rumbaugh was a longitudinal case study.
  • Baron-Cohen used many participants i a snapshot study.
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