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Theory of Mind

Date: Mon, 10 Aug 1998 09:21:52 -0400

From: Tracey McMullen <tracey.mcmullen@SICKKIDS.ON.CA>

Subject: Theory of Mind articles

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Hi, here it is finally for all those who asked - a short list of some =

articles that indicate that some children with autism are able to =

demonstrate "theory of mind" in the classical experimental manner. =

Typically, studies about the presence of a "theory of mind" prove or =

disprove this by looking at: a child's ability to perform a false-belief =

task (practice deception) or engage in pretend play or their ability to =

attribute mental states (infer another's emotions). If a child can not =

carry out one of these tasks, the research then concludes that the child =

does not (yet?) possess "theory of mind".

The following are some articles that indicate that the inability to do =

some of these tasks could be because of problems with executive function =

or inhibition (like perseverating).

Yirmiya, N. et al. (1996) Ability to maniputlate behavior and to =

understand manipulation of beliefs: A comparison of individuals with =

autism , mental retardation and normal development. Developmental =

Psychology, 32, 62-69.

Ozonoff, S. et al. (1991) Executive functioning deficits in high =

functioning autistic individuals: Relationship to theory of mind. Journal =

of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1081-1105.

Hughes, D.H. & Russel, J. (1993) Autistic children's difficulty with =

mental disengagement from an object: Its implications for theories of =

autism. Developmental Psychology, 29(3), 498-510.

Jarrold, C. et al. (1994) Comprehension of pretense in children with =

autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24(4), 433-455.

Russel et al. (1991) The 'windows task' as a measure of strategic =

deception in preschoolers and autistic subjects. British Journal of =

Developmental Psychology, 9, 331-349.

(author?) (1992) Autistic social dysfunction: Some limitations of the =

theory of mind hypothesis. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(=

5), 861-876.

Ozonoff, S. et al. (1990) Are there emotion perception deficits in young =

autistic children? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31(3), 343-=


Disclaimer: this does not mean I personally disagree with the theory of =

mind deficit hypothesis in children with autism, just that I'm not so sure =

that we have all the information yet.

Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1996 14:52:41 -0400

From: MK <uualien@P3.NET>

Subject: JADD article on Theory of Mind

Dear ListMates,

I found a copy of the JADD article (Vol. 25, No. 4, 1995) which Bud Newsome

mentioned the other day, called "Teaching Theory of Mind: A New Approach to

Social Skills Training for Individuals with Autism" by Sally Ozonoff and

Judith Miller (University of Utah). I prepared a summary of this article

for the students in my language disorders class and I thought I'd send it

off to anyone on the List who might be interested: (For those MeListers who

might not have tracked the previous discussions about this topic, Theory of

Mind, or TOM, refers to a person's ability to infer the mental states of


Anyway, Ozonoff et al's study involved 9 adolescent boys who met the

DSM-III criteria for Autistic Disorder or PDD-NOS. All boys had Full Scale

IQ scores above 70. The boys were divided into two groups (treatment and

control) so that any differences in their performance following treatment

could be related to the treatment rather than to normal maturational

factors. Assignment of the boys to one or another of the groups was done on

the basis of scheduling convenience (rather than on the basis of

randomization, the preferred procedure in research). The treatment group

included 5 boys (mean age = 13.8, ranging from 13.5 to 14.0) and the

control group included 4 boys (mean age = 13.6, ranging from 11.3 to 16.2).

The boys in the treatment group participated in fourteen (14) 90-minute

group sessions over a 4 1/2 month period. Each session consisted of 6

parts: 1) a discussion of the particular social skill being targeted that

day, 2) a discussion of the importance of that skill in daily life, 3) the

presentation of role plays enacted by the trainers, 4) the boys'

engagement in role play which was videotaped, 5) a review of the

videotapes with reinforcement and constructive feedback given for specific

behaviors, and 6) a fun activity (see below)

The curriculum for the group sessions involved two basic modules, each

presented in 7 of the 14 consecutive sessions. The first module addressed

basic interaction and conversation skills (e.g., how to begin, maintain, and

appropriately end conversations, how to choose topics that interest others,

how to read, interpret and appropriately express nonverbal signals and

emotional expressions, how to negotiate and share, how to listen, how to

give compliments, how to express interest in others). The activities for

this module came from two published curricula. One is called THE WALKER


published by Pro-Ed. The other is called THE PREPARE CURRICULUM: TEACHING

PRO-SOCIAL COMPETENCIES by Goldstein (1988), published in Champaign,

Illinois by Research Press.

The second unit focused on teaching perspective taking and theory of mind

skills. The activities here were variations on procedures published

initially by Baron-Cohen (1989) and others. Theory of Mind (TOM) skills

were first addressed concretely by having group members lead a blindfolded

trainer through a maze. "Children were taught to take the blindfolded

person's physical perspective, providing a good description of obstacles and

possible routes, without assuming the blind-folded person could see what the

child could see."

Next, the emphasis shifted to how cognitive points of view could differ

(e.g., how one person could know something that another person does not

know). Role playing was used to illustrate this. For example, child A and

child B were instructed to hide a toy together. Then, child B changed the

hiding place while child A was not looking. The group members were then

asked to predict where child A would look for the toy.

Next, the emphasis shifted to "second-order perspective taking" (i.e.,

predicting what one person THINKS another person THINKS). "For example, in

one role play, children A, B, and C decide to go bowling together later that

evening. After child A leaves to change clothes before bowling, B and C

revise the plans, deciding instead to see a movie. B and C then part ways as

well. On the way home, B stops by A's house to tell him of the new plan.

They agree to meet at the movie theater and A heads there. C, after changing

his own clothes, stops by A's house and finds he is not there. The group

members were then asked to predict where C would think A had gone."

Another goal of the treatment was to demonstrate that social interactions

can be fun and desirable. To this end, each treatment session was ended with

a game or other pleasurable activity. The games which were used often

addressed particular social skills which had been targeted throughout the

meetings. For example, clues in a game of Wheel of Fortune might have

included "a nonverbal signal that shows you are listening" or "what people

do when they are frustrated."

Also, community outings were scheduled between the group treatment

sessions . Outings included such things as visits to arcades, restaurants,

malls. And at each outing each boy would be given certain social goals to

work on (e.g., initiating 2 conversations with the boy they were seated next

to). The boys received feedback after the outings about their performance

of the targeted behaviors.

The boys in the treatment group also participated in planning several

parties to which adults and children from outside the group were invited.

In so doing, the boys were encouraged to select foods and activities which

the guests would enjoy (rather than just those which the boys themselves

would enjoy). Emphasis was placed on taking the perspective of the guests

and inferring what they would enjoy.

In order to assess whether this treatment would impact the TOM of the

children in the treatment group, ALL children in both groups were given

pre- and post-tests (before and after the end of the treatment protocol).

There were 4 tests in all, and they are described as follows:

1. M&Ms False Belief Task (based on Perner et al., 1989) - This is a "first

order" perspective taking task. "The boys were shown a box of M&Ms and asked

what it contained. After a response was given, the box was opened to reveal

that it actually held a pencil. Subjects were then asked to predict what

another child, who had never seen the box, would think it contained. A pass

was scored if the subject responded "M&Ms" or "candy"

2. Second Order Belief Attribution Task (based pm Baron-Cohen, 1989) - This

task utilized a model of a town constructed from railroad miniatures.

"Subjects were told a story about two children, John and Mary, playing in a

park. After seeing the story enacted, subjects were asked to predict Mary's

beliefs about John's whereabouts (Belief Question). A correct answer

required subjects to recursively reason about mental states (e.g., What does

Mary think John thinks?) and from this, predict where she would believe he

had gone. There was also a Justification Question.. . [To answer this],

subjects were asked to explain why Mary held the belief she did. Responses

were scored according to the number of mental state attributions made by the

subject (0= no mental states mentioned, 1= mental states attributed to only

one character, and 2= mental states attributed to both characters).

3. Overcoat Story (based on Bowler, 1992) - This task also measured second

order belief attribution abilities, but was more difficult because no visual

cues were provided. "subjects were asked to predict what one person thinks

another person thinks and then explain why. Scoring was the same as above.

4. Prisoner Story (based on Happe, 1994) - This was an advanced TOM

measure. "...Subjects read a short story about a prisoner of war who is

being interrogated about the location of his army's tanks. The story states

that the interrogators assume the prisoner will lie. In an effort to save

his comrades, the prisoner instead tells the truth. Subjects were asked to

predict where the interrogators would look for the tanks (Belief Question)

and why (Justification Question). Scoring was the same as above.

In addition to the direct pre- and post-testing of the boys' performance,

teachers and parents were asked to rate each boy's behavior in the natural

environment by completing a Social Skills Rating (SSR) questionnaire. The

teachers were blind to each boy's group membership and time of testing.

The boys' test performance results were analyzed in several ways. The

pre-and post-test scores were compared across groups to evaluate effect

size (i.e., the degree to which the treatment group improved relative to the

control group subjects). Also analyzed was the proportion of boys in each

group who improved and the generalizability of the improvement.

Results indicated that there were no differences between the two groups at

pre-treatment testing; however, the treatment group's performance had

improved at post-treatment assessment while those of the control group had

not. ... The magnitude of the differences suggested that the intervention

was effective in improving performance on the false belief tests. Also, 80%

of the treatment group (4 of 5 subjects) had improved while only 25% (1 of

4) of the control group did... The treatment group demonstrated improvement

on 65.4% of the tests not initially passed, while the average improvement of

the control group was only 23.5%. However, generalization of effects

APPEARED not to be significant based on the results of the ratings provided

by teachers and parents. However, the authors noted that the SSR

questionnaire used to obtain the ratings did not specifically include

questions which addressed TOM issues (i.e., perspective taking). In other

words, the teachers and parents were asked to rate the boys on the basis of

behaviors which were not directly relevant to the treatment.

Based on the results of this study, the authors call for further research.

For example, if the boys in the treatment group really did not generalize

their TOM skills into the classroom or into their family life, the question

remains whether one can actually teach TOM to ASD children or whether one

can only teach specific skills that reflect TOM in restricted contexts. The

authors believe that TOM can be taught, but they indicate that future

research must utilizes more sensitive tools in assessing this question.

Additionally, the TOM tasks in this study assessed only a small range of

perspective taking skills (i.e., inferences about another person's

knowledge, belief, deception, intention). It is also important to explore

the modifiability of other mental state inferences (e.g., knowedge of

desire, pretense, and misunderstanding). And finally, treatment effects

should be assessed in terms of their durability. If an ASD child can be

taught to respond to a TOM task appropriately, how long will this skill

remain in his/her repertoire without further specific and deliberate


I hope that some of you found this information interesting or useful. MKDate: Sun, 28 Apr 1996 17:51:38 -0400

From: Cheryl Bomba <CLBomba@AOL.COM>

Subject: Theory of Mind

To Mariko and anyone else who may be interested:

Basically, "theory of mind" refers to the ability to conceive of mental

states: that is, the ability to know that *other people* know, want, feel,

believe in things, etc. Although the term has been around since the 1970's,

it did not become "popular" until the late 1980's.

In typically developing children, the ability to understand that another

person's perspective may be different from one's own (and to figure out what

that perspective might be) starts to develop at around age 2 and, according

to Piaget, is not fully developed until age 9 or 10. However, Piaget's

research has been criticized in recent years and most child development

professionals now believe that this ability is established much earlier.

One of the tests used to demonstrate people with autism's difficulty with

theory of mind involved three groups of participants - typically developing

children, children with mental retardation and children with autism - all

matched for cognitive ability and receptive and expressive language levels.

The experimenter took the children one by one and showed them each a candy

box. The experimenter shook the box so the children could hear that there was

something inside. When the experimenter asked, "What do you think is in the

box?" the children answered (excitedly!) "Candy!" The experimenter then

opened the box and showed that it contained not candy, but pencils.

For the next step of the test, the experimenter said, "Let's bring your

friend John in and show him the box. What do you think he'll say is inside?"

The typically developing children and the children with mental retardation

all said that John would say there was candy in the box; they "got the joke"

and thought this would be hilarious. But when the experimenter asked the

children with autism this question, they all said that John would say there

were pencils in the box. They just didn't "get" how someone could think

something different than what they knew to be a fact; they couldn't "put

themselves in John's shoes" and see the situation from John's point of view.

Since the children in this test were matched for cognitive ability and

receptive and expressive language levels, children with autism's inability to

understand theory of mind may be a deficit independent of general

intellectual functioning, and may explain the lack of pretend play and

pervasive difficulties with social exchanges often seen in children with


New research is investigating whether or not children with autism can be

*taught* theory of mind. Eden is currently working with Dr. Alan Leslie on a

study involving the development of theory of mind in autistic children; I

will keep everyone posted as the project progresses.

If anyone would like to read more, Uta Frith's book "Autism: Explaining the

Enigma" is a good place to start. "Understanding Other Minds" edited by Simon

Baron-Cohen, Helen Tager-Flusberg and Donald Cohen is also good, but highly


Hope this information was helpful!

Cheryl Bomba, M.A.T.

Assistant Director for Technical Support

Eden Family of Services

Princeton, NJ

Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996 22:17:06 +0100

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Sender: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List


From: Anders Ebenfelt <Anders.Ebenfelt@MAILER.GU.SE>

Subject: Theory of mind and some more

To: Multiple recipients of list AUTISM <AUTISM@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>

>Tuberous Sclerosis is a late onset (with exception) variant of autism.

>Normal social development can occur up to one year of age in many cases

>before the appearance of infantile spasms which is the precusor to the

>development of autism. Many autistic children pass the milestone of the

>development of joint social attention which normally emerges at about six

>months postnatal, but the vast majority of autistic have consistently been

>shown to perform poorly in theory of mind tests. The development of a

>theory of mind occurs normally at around 48 months, therefore it is

>unlikely that there is a single narrow window of oppurtunity (ie those who

>state that it is a second trimester. disorder) for the early neurological

>damage to occur.


>Bob Jensen

Yes, but I think there is still a possibility for aquiring the disorder

(autism) from environmental factors during some of the first years of life.

Still, there are some children with onset around and after 3 years of age

(my son for example). The development of theory of mind is of some authors

statued occuring at 48 month, but I think this must be a mistake. I have

three children and it is obvious that two of them (including my now

autistic boy, but not the girl with Mb Down and autism I also have !)

developed theory of mind early in life. It is easy to possess that when

talking to a child. Further, I don't think that the lack of theory of mind

in autistic individuals is a general rule. Things are more complicated than

so. In the original experiment in this subject, by Uta Frith I think, I

think (dont remember exactly) that 4 out of 14 children with autism passed

the test (Sally-Ann test) correct whilst all non-autistic individuals did

the same. It is a striking difference, yes, but what about the 4 who did

correct. They had autism but yet they passed the test and thus had theory

of mind if the test is considered to be a proof of that.

Best Regards

Anders Ebenfelt

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 1996 19:49:02 -0700

From: Kirk Schumacher <kschumac@INTERSERV.COM>

Subject: Re: Theory of Mind

Hi all,

I was very concerned as to whether my son had a theory of

mind while he was in the process of recovery. I had read

a great deal about theory of mind including several

articles by Uta Firth. I found theory of mind to be

disturbing because it seemed to indicate a lack of what

one might consider the essence of being human, emphathy.

I was at first anguished when my son failed the tests which

had been published by Uta Firth et al. Then many months later

I realized that my son had not understood questions. I

realized that fact after sitting through one of the several

IQ tests he took to isolate deficits. I knew that my son

frequently knew the answer, but the phrasing of the question was

just enough off to lead him to give the wrong answer. When

I repeated the theory of mind tests at a language level

where I was confident he understook the question, he clearly

demonstrated a theory of mind.

I have serious reservations whether the researchers are fully

able to match for language proficiency. Athough my son

increased his IQ scores by some 50 points, I don't think he got

any smarter. I think it was all in the testing, even "nonverbal"

IQ tests contain a great deal of language content. We need to

see a lot more and better controlled research to make any conclusions

as to autistics failure to develop a theory of mind.

Kirk S. Schumacher

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 21:32:07 GMT

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Sender: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List



Organization: Box Hill College of TAFE

Subject: Re: Aaaaaagh - I've changed my mind

>From my readings of the many post on this topic, it seems that Frith is getting

forked in the neck for using terms such as Theory of Mind (ToM) and

mind-blindness. Lets set the record straight once and for all.

I do not intend to write a thesis on this topic but some things need to be put

into perspective. Frith did not, and never claimed to, "invent" the theory of

mind hypothesis. It has been around for many years and was coined, I believe,

by Premack and Woodruff in 1978 in their paper, "Does the chimpanzee have a

"theory of mind"? _Behavior and Brain Sciences, 4_, 515-526. (I'm providing

full citations so that interested readers can access them for themselves).

Indeed since then there has been an enormous amount of research into ToM, but

this is related to developmental psychology generally, not specifically to

autism. As an area of developmental research, ToM, or "mindreading" as some

prefer to call it, is a fascinating topic and has produced such publications as

Whiten, A. (1991). _Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development

and simulation of everyday mindreading_. Oxford: Basil



Wellman, H.M. (1990). _The child's theory of mind_. Cambridge: MIT


ToM is defined as an "implicit capacity which involves the person postulationg

the existence of mental states and then using these to explain and predict

another person's behavior". I shall quote further. "...This capacity implies a

need to represent other people's representations; accordingly, the implicit

"theory of mind" requires the usage of "second order representations" or

"meta-represenations" is this specific cognitive skill which is postulated

to be at fault in autistic individuals" (Klin, A., Volkmar, F., &Sparrow, S.

(1992). Autistic social dysfunction: Some limitations to the theory of mind

hypothesis, _Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33_, 861-876).

What Frith, and indeed MANY others, have done is to test the hypothesise that

what people with autistic spectrum disorders are experiencing is a ToM defecit

or delay. The research findings in support of this hypothesis are compelling

and cannot be ignored or dismissed out of hand.

It is true that most children display a lack of ToM but it is also generally

accepted that by the age of 4 years, most children have begun to move away from

an egocentric point of view and demonstate an increasing awareness of others'

points of view. Piaget referred to this stage of development as

the period of "intuitive thought". From 4 to 7 years, the child is seen to be

able to take other peoples' perspectives into account. The person experiencing

an autistic spectrum disorder, however, might be thought of as being delayed in

this area. Notice the use of the term "delayed" which implies that some may

eventually develop this skill although the path taken to reach it might deviate

from the norm quite markedly. Others, however, may never develop that skill,

i.e they can be seen as having a ToM deficit (not a mind deficit - the

distinction is important).

Frith, I believe, now prefers to use the term "mentalising" to refer to ToM

skills. As for the term, "mind-blindness", it was only used as a metaphor to

allow educators to appreciate that the condition can be accommodated.

"Dyslexia can be seen as word-blindness and autism as mind-blindness.

The metaphor is helpul as a means of thinking about the education and

management of children suffering from a disorder....People can be made

mindful of the needs of the blind person, and the physical enviornment

can be adapted so as to be safe for someone who cannot see. Exactly

the same applies to people with word-blindness or mind-blindness".

(Frith, U. (1992). Cognitive development and cognitive deficit, _The

Psychologist, 5_, 13-19).

Using my own theory of mind, this does not appear, to me, to be the writing of

someone who is desirous of introducing big words into the autistic vocabulary

in order to make a name for herself. On the contray it seems to me that she is

fighting to allow autistic people to be recognised as individuals in the same

way as those with other forms of disability are. "Surely, to recognise that

some people have a disorder means to recognise that they have the right to an

allowance being made for their [disability]. This is at least a first step

towards a kinder treatment" (p.19).

I hope I have presented this discussion in a fair way that nips in the bud the

assertions that Frith is in this for her own notoriety. The ToM hypothesis may

have a long way to go but it has certainly provided researchers and

practitioners in the field with more information about the condition than we

have ever had before. We can therefore thank Frith and her colleagues for

their efforts.


David Goble

Melbourne, Australia

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 10:36:27 GMT


Sender: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List


From: "Stephen N. Drake" <sndrake@MAILBOX.SYR.EDU>

Organization: Syracuse University, Syracuse NY, USA

Subject: Re: Aaaaaagh - I've changed my mind!

Ian Wedge ( wrote:

: What is the problem with "Theory of Mind"? Is there are an alternative

: explanation for the results of the Sally-Anne test or the Smarties test?

: Judging from the post below the theory isn't restricted to the UK, but I

: really don't know. I'd appreciate some feedback on this.

Hi Ian,

Sorry to jump in on this so late, but I dug out a few abstracts that look

at the Sally-Anne test and variations on it. It turns out that

performance can depend on a host of factors, most of them easier to

define and evaluate than "theory of mind". Abstracts are below:



TI: Theory of mind in children with autistic disorder: Evidence of

developmental progression and the role of verbal ability.

AU: Sparrevohn,-Roslyn; Howie,-Pauline-M.

JN: Journal-of-Child-Psychology-and-Psychiatry-and-Allied-

Disciplines; 1995 Feb Vol 36(2) 249-263

AB: Investigated developmental progression of theory of mind ability

in 30 autistic children (aged 5.8-15.2 yrs) and examined the role

played by verbal ability in task performance. Two groups of Ss with

different verbal mental ages (15 high vs 15 low) but comparable

nonverbal ability and chronological ages performed a range of theory

of mind belief tasks. Results show hierarchical patterns of

performance across tasks, suggesting a developmental sequence of

emerging aspects of theory of mind ability. There was clear evidence

that verbal ability is an important contributor to successful task



TI: Autistic children's difficulty with mental disengagement from an

object: Its implications for theories of autism.

AU: Hughes,-Claire; Russell,-James

JN: Developmental-Psychology; 1993 May Vol 29(3) 498-510

AB: Exp 1 demonstrated that autistic Ss continue to fail a task

originally designed as one of strategic deception when there is no

opponent present: They perseveratively indicate the target object.

The authors argue that this behavior is better explained in terms of

failing to disengage from an object than in terms of a theory-of-mind

deficit. To ensure that their difficulties were not due to failure to

construe the task in a competitive manner, the authors ran a 2nd

study, on detour reaching. Compared with control Ss, the autistic Ss

had great difficulty with the task. Children's difficulties with

these 2 tasks are discussed in light of recent evidence that autism

is associated with failing executive tasks, and it is argued that

viewing the syndrome as an executive deficit has clear advantages.


TI: Performance of autistic and control subjects on three cognitive

perspective-taking tasks.

AU: Reed,-Taffy

JN: Journal-of-Autism-and-Developmental-Disorders; 1994 Feb Vol 24(1)


AB: 22 autistic Ss (aged 5-39 yrs), 22 normal control Ss (aged 3-17

yrs), and 10 intellectually retarded Ss (aged 6-52 yrs) were tested

on a task involving 2 dolls (the "Sally/Anne" task) proposed by S.

Baron-Cohen et al (see PA, Vol 73:30090) and on 2 other perspective-

taking tasks that involved more predictable interactions and

nontransient cues. Autistic Ss differed significantly from the

control Ss in their ability to perform the Sally/Anne task but not

the other tasks. As well the autistic Ss performed significantly

differently on the 2 types of tasks. Failure of the autistic Ss on

the Sally/Anne task with their concurrent success on the other tasks

is attributed to the nontransient nature of the stimuli used and the

predictability of the protagonists' reactions in the 2 tasks on which

they succeeded.

Date: Fri, 13 Oct 1995 02:06:24 -0400

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From: Natalie Whatley <whatley@INFORAMP.NET>

Organization: InfoRamp Inc.

Subject: Theory of Mind (very long post)

To: Multiple recipients of list AUTISM <AUTISM@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>

This was Jay Ingram's column in the Toronto Star on Oct. 8/95.

"Why you can be in two (or more) minds"

"It is a difficult truth of research into the human brain: people who are the

victims of disabling brain damage sometimes offer the greatest insights into

how the undamaged brain works and the more unusual the condition, the greater

the leap of understanding may be.

Such is the case with Williams syndrome. Williams syndrome is a genetic

disorder affecting only about one child in 20,000. children with Williams

syndrome are usually described as being 'elfin' in appearance with wide

mouths, flared nostrils and full cheeks. they are also severely mentally

impaired, usually scoring in the 50s on IQ tests.

But their mental impairment is quite uneven. While they are apparently

incapable of even simple reasoning and problem solving, they are eerily

skilled in their use of language and at recognizing faces and facial

expressions. They can decipher incredibly complex sentences and when asked to

name animals, they are likely to come up with 'ibex' or aardvark' as they are

'cat' or 'dog'.

This srange pattern of a few islands of ability in an otherwise dismal sea of

mental incompetence has attracted the attention of many researchers in the

last 10 years.

A team of English and American scientists recently tested the idea that there

might be a set of centres in the brain that deal exclusively with social

interaction, a set the might somehow be spared in Williams syndrome. If such

speculation could be proven it would go a long way toward supporting the

general idea that the brain - rather than being and intelligent mush - is

instead a collection of smaller brains or 'modules' designed to accomplish

specific tasks.

One way of demonstrating that the brain has a set of these 'social

interaction' centres would be to find another mental ability that is preserved

in Williams syndrome children. The researchers chose to test the children's

ability to detect and identify what's on someone else's mind. for example, if

I see you glancing repeatedly at the cake on the table, and I realized that

you want to eat it, then I have some knowledge of your mind.

One of the reasons these researchers chose this particular mental ability is

that in another much better-known condition, autism, the ability to know

what's going on in another's mind is strikingly impaired. Even autistic

individuals with normal IQs have great trouble figuring out from the most

obvious clues what someone is thinking.

If that single ability can be knocked out in autistic kids, could it be

preserved in Williams syndrome? After all, Williams kids are good at

interpreting faces and language, two other important social skills. Maybe

knowing what others think would be a third part of that mental package.

And it was. Williams syndrome children were very good at understanding what

others are thinking. A perfect example is a little scenario involving two

dolls. As the child watches, doll Number 1 hides a toy in a toy box while doll

Number 2 looks on. Then doll Number 2 leaves the room. Doll Number 1 now takes

the toy out of the toy box and hides it instead in a drawer. doll Number 2

returns. The child is then asked, 'Where will doll Number 2 look for the toy?'

Autistic children usually get this wrong. They seem to assume that because

they know the toy has been moved, doll Number 2 knows that too. They can't put

themselves into the second doll's mind. But Williams syndrome shildren have no

trouble understanding that doll Number 2 couldn't possibly know that the toy

had been moved. They even use the word 'think' as in, 'He will look in that

box because he thinks it's still there.'

These experiments don't just reveal a third intact mental ability in Williams

syndrome children. They also suggest that those intact abilities - language,

understanding faces and knowing what's on someone's mind - are all the mental

skills required by a social life. they may even represent a set of

interconnected brain centres that have been spared in the devastation of this


Where are these supposed centres? No one knows. Why are they intact? Same

answer. But the mere fact they exist is further evidence that our brains are

many, not one. Singleminded we are not.

(Jay Ingram hosts the TV program on the Discovery Channel)

I found this article fascinating; hope you did too.


& Date: Fri, 17 Feb 1995 11:21:29 EST

Reply-To: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List


Sender: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List



Subject: Executive Function References


To: Multiple recipients of list AUTISM <AUTISM@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>

Belinda asked for these...they might be useful to others.



AN Journal Article: 82-01806.

AU Ozonoff, Sally; Strayer, David L; McMahon, William M; Filloux, Francis.

IN U Utah, Dept of Psychology, Salt Lake City, US.

TI Executive function abilities in autism and Tourette syndrome: An

information processing approach.

SO Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines. Vol 35(6)

1015-1032, Sep 1994.

AB Used an information-processing paradigm (IPP) to describe the nature of

processing deficits underlying autism. IPPs were also used to isolate

specific cognitive operations and to examine their association with autism

and Tourette's Syndrome (TS). 14 nonretarded autistic children (aged 8-16

yrs), 13 children with TS (mean age 12.9 yrs), and 13 control children

(12.2 yrs) completed the Go-NoGo or the H&S task. Autistic and TS Ss also

completed clinical interviews and intellectual assessments. Autistic Ss

performed as well as controls on tasks requiring global-local processing

and inhibition of neutral responses. However, autistic Ss were

significantly impaired on a measure of cognitive flexibility. The

performance of Ss with TS did not differ from that of controls on any task.

(Japanese abstract) (PsycINFO Database Copyright 1995 American

Psychological Assn, all rights reserved).



AN Chapter: 94-210022-006.

AU Romanczyk, Raymond G; Lockshin, Stephanie B; Navalta, Carryl.

IN State U New York, Binghamton, NY, US.

TI Autism: Differential diagnosis. [References].

BK Autism in children and adults: Etiology, assessment, and intervention.

(Johnny L. Matson, Ed.), pp. 99-125.

SO Brooks/Cole Publishing Co, Pacific Grove, CA, US; xi, 275 pp. 1994.

AB Content Representation: (from the chapter) focus on differential diagnosis

in (autism) / question what extent autism is associated with specific

cognitive deficits that differentiate it from other diagnostic categories

(such as mental retardation) /// diagnostic issues / Asperger's syndrome /

issues of onset / diagnostic instruments / differential diagnosis:

cognitive functioning (perception and attention, language disturbance,

performance patterns on tests of intellectual functioning, problem solving,

executive function, concept formation, social cognition).



AN Journal Article: 81-25956.

AU Happe, Francesca G E.

IN MRC Cognitive Development Unit, London, England.

TI Annotation: Current psychological theories of autism: The "Theory of Mind"

account and rival theories.

SO Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines. Vol 35(2)

215-229, Feb 1994.

AB A discussion of psychological theories of autism shows that recent focus

has been on social impairment as the key feature. Theories strive to

explain the triad of handicaps in communication, socialization, and

imagination in terms of one or more psychological deficits (biologically

caused). It is suggested that other features of autism (e.g., stereotypies,

obsessive interests, lack of generalization of skills, islets of ability)

have been neglected. A wider focus on the cognitive style of individuals

with autism (executive function deficits, uneven profiles on IQ tests)

might encourage theories of autism accounting for the impairments and the

assets and abilities of effected individuals. (PsycINFO Database Copyright

1994 American Psychological Assn, all rights reserved).



AN Journal Article: 81-06087.

AU Ozonoff, Sally; Rogers, Sally J; Farnham, James M; Pennington, Bruce F.

IN U Utah, Salt Lake City, US.

TI Can standard measures identify subclinical markers of autism?.

SO Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders. Vol 23(3) 429-441, Sep 1993.

AB Compared the executive function and theory-of-mind abilities of siblings of

18 autistic Ss to those of siblings of 18 learning-disabled controls. One

sibling (aged 8-18 yrs) of each proband participated in the study. Three

different analyses of the dependent measures provided convergent support

for a potential subclinical marker in the executive function domain. No

group differences in theory-of-mind abilities were found. However, power

analyses revealed that the measures employed in this study, which are

typically used with autistic individuals, were not sufficiently sensitive

to detect any group differences that might exist in "unaffected" family

members. (PsycINFO Database Copyright 1994 American Psychological Assn, all

rights reserved).



AN Journal Article: 80-29937.

AU Bishop, D V.

IN MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, England.

TI Annotation: Autism, executive functions and theory of mind: A

neuropsychological perspective.

SO Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines. Vol 34(3)

279-293, Mar 1993.

AB Summarizes literature which shows that a neuropsychological approach to

autistic symptoms can provide new ways of analyzing cognitive deficits in

autism. A proposal by A. R. Damasio and R. G. Maurer (see PA, Vol 63:9969)

that implicates the mesolimbic system and associated frontal lobe

structures is said to offer a plausible interpretation of the neurological

basis of autism. Studies using neuropsychological tests with autistic

people have highlighted the similarities between autistic symptoms and

executive function deficits in frontal lobe patients. It is argued that to

suppose that frontal lobe lesions will necessarily make children autistic

is an oversimplification. Lack of conclusive evidence of brain damage from

neuroimaging studies suggests that the underlying problem may not be

destruction of neural tissue, but some other process such as depletion of

neurotransmitter or developmental cortical malformations. (Japanese

abstract) (PsycINFO Database Copyright 1993 American Psychological Assn,

all rights reserved).



AN Journal Article: 79-16810.

AU Ozonoff, Sally; Pennington, Bruce F; Rogers, Sally J.

IN U Utah, Salt Lake City, US.

TI Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals:

Relationship to theory of mind.

SO Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines. Vol 32(7)

1081-1105, Nov 1991.

AB 23 high-functioning autistic individuals (aged 8-20 yrs) were compared to

20 nonautistic controls matched on verbal IQ, age, and socioeconomic status

(SES). Differences were found on executive function, theory of mind,

emotion perception, and verbal memory tests, but not on spatial or other

control measures. Second-order theory of mind and executive function

deficits were widespread among the autistic group, while 1st-order theory

of mind deficits were found in only a subset of the sample. (PsycINFO

Database Copyright 1992 American Psychological Assn, all rights reserved).



AN Journal Article: 79-16458.

AU Ozonoff, Sally; Rogers, Sally J; Pennington, Bruce F.

IN U Utah, Salt Lake City, US.

TI Asperger's syndrome: Evidence of an empirical distinction from

high-functioning autism.

SO Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines. Vol 32(7)

1107-1122, Nov 1991.

AB Compared the neuropsychological profiles of 13 Ss with high-functioning

autism (HFA) and 10 Ss with Asperger's syndrome (AS). In comparison with 20

matched nonautistic controls, both groups were impaired on executive

function tests. Only the HFA group demonstrated deficits in theory of mind

and verbal memory, performing worse than both controls and AS patients. HFA

and AS Ss appear to be distinguishable on measures independent of

diagnostic criteria, and impairment on theory of mind measures may not

universally be found among Ss with autistic spectrum conditions. (PsycINFO

Database Copyright 1992 American Psychological Assn, all rights reserved).



AN Journal Article: 79-05879.

AU Rogers, Sally J; Pennington, Bruce F.

IN U Colorado Health Sciences Ctr, Denver, US.

TI A theoretical approach to the deficits in infantile autism.

SO Development & Psychopathology. Vol 3(2) 137-162, 1991.

AB Discusses deficits specific to the syndrome of infantile autism (IFA) and

suggests that early social capacities involving imitation, emotion sharing,

and theory of mind are primarily and specifically deficient in IFA. These

capacities involve forming and coordinating social representations of self

and other at increasingly complex levels via representational processes

that extract patterns of similarity between self and other. D. Stern's

(1985) theory of interpersonal development is offered as a continuous model

for understanding the development and deficits in IFA and as a means for

integrating competing theories about the primary deficits in autism. A

neuropsychological model of interpersonal coordination involving prefrontal

cortex and executive function capacities is also suggested. (PsycINFO

Database Copyright 1992 American Psychological Assn, all rights reserved).

From: "Lynda W. Huggins" <HUGGINS@MERLIN.NLU.EDU>

Subject: "Mindblindness" Addtnl Info


To: Multiple recipients of list AUTISM <AUTISM@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>

For those that asked...

The review of the book "Mindblindness" by Simon Baron-Cohen appeared

in a booklet by The MIT Press, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142.

It reviews their Spring 1995 publications.

This book is part of the Learning, Development, and Conceptual Changes

series. A Bradford Book. May publication, 6x9, 208pp, 43 illus.,

$22.50, 0-262-02384-9, Cognitive Science/Neuropsychology/Philosophy.

Lynda in Louisiana

Date: Wed, 1 Feb 1995 11:47:25 -0600

Reply-To: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List


Sender: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List


From: "Lynda W. Huggins" <HUGGINS@MERLIN.NLU.EDU>

Subject: Review of new book


To: Multiple recipients of list AUTISM <AUTISM@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>

New Book on Autism:

"Mindblindness, An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind" by Simon

Baron-Cohen is due for publication this spring.

In "Mindblindness", Simon Baron-Cohen presents a model of the

evolution and development of "mindreading." He argues that we

mindread all the time, effortlessly, automatically, and mostly

unconsciously. It is the natural way in which we interpret,

predict, and participate in social behavior and communication. We

ascribe mental states to people: states such as thoughts, desires,

knowledge, and intentions.

Building on many years of research, Baron-Cohen concludes that

children with autism, suffer from "mindblindness" as a result of a

selective impairment in mindreading. For these children, the world

is essentially devoid of mental things.

Baron-Cohen develops a theory that draws on data from comparative

psychology, from developmental, and from neuropsychology. He

argues that specific neurocognitive mechanisms have evolved that

allow us to mindread, to make sense of actions, to interpret gazes

as meaningful, and to decode "the language of the eyes."

Simon Baron-Cohen is Lecturer in Psychopathology in the departments

of experimental psychology and psychiatry at the University of


& 25 Jan 1995 16:28:24 -0500

Date: Wed, 25 Jan 1995 12:20:34 GMT


Sender: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List


From: Andrew & Lesley Black <black@BACH.DEMON.CO.UK>

Organization: Black Household

Subject: Re: Other Minds

X-To: SJU Autism and Developmental Disablities List


To: Multiple recipients of list AUTISM <AUTISM@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>

In-Reply-To: <>

In message <> you recently said:

> Has anyone read S.Baron-Cohen's _Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives Of

> Autism_? Is there anything interesting there?


> Jenee Woodard

Yes I have. I rushed to buy it when it came out about 18 months ago. I

have a bit of an obsession about theory of mind research as I have found

these ideas very helpful in understanding the way my son might be seeing the

world, particularly when he was younger. The book is quite weighty,

literally and metaphorically; it has over 500 pages. It is also not cheap,

though I believe it's now out in paperback. If you have a particular

interest in the subject, it's brilliant, otherwise probably a waste of time.

I'm appending an edited version of a review I wrote for our local

newsletter. This is geared for a UK audience, but there are also US

contributors e.g. Cathy Lord, Helen Tager-Flusberg, Fred Volkmar and Jerome


Understanding Other Minds - Perspectives from Autism

Eds. Simon Baron-Cohen, Helen Tager-Flusberg and Donald Cohen

Pub. Oxford University Press

Those readers familiar with the work of Uta Frith and Simon Baron-Cohen will

know of their hypothesis that autistic people fail to develop a 'theory of

mind', that is to say they have difficulty taking account of other people's

knowledge, beliefs and intentions.

This new book brings together current research in the field of 'theory of

mind' such as can normally only be found in academic journals. It is

therefore a boon to those like me who have no access to a research library.

Contributors come from all over the world; names familiar to British readers

will be: Simon Baron-Cohen, Uta Frith, Peter Hobson, Patricia Howlin and

Michael Rutter. The book is particularly interesting in that it covers a

wide range of opinion. While most of the contributors acknowledge that

people with autism do have difficulty understanding other minds, not all

agree that this is the primary cognitive problem.

The main body of the book is made up of chapters on language, pretence,

deception and social development in autism among many others. All these

areas are examined with reference to 'theory of mind'. There are also

perspectives from normal child development, animal studies, philosophy and


On the whole this is a detailed academic text, highly recommended if you

have a theoretical interest in 'theory of mind' research. There is not much

of direct practical value to the average parent. However ch.21 by Simon

Baron Cohen and Pat Howlin on questions of teaching and diagnosis might be

of interest.

I hope this is the sort of information you were looking for.


Lesley Black

Date: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 13:58:39 -0700 From: Carolyn Johnston <cpj@VEXCEL.COM> Subject: theory of mind and thanks

****** This is a confidential, unmoderated list. ****** Responsibility for posts to this list lies entirely with the original author. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I wanted to make an observation about the theory of mind controversy, i.e. whether or not TOM is a core issue for autistics: I note that whenever I've read about TOM, the authors talk about failed experiments with TOM on autistics as if they are static matters that one can never hope to remediate. What does this prove about anything? You may as well throw up your hands and say, "My kid can't talk. I may as well give up, that's a fundamental problem with autistics!"

Seems to me that you might have a case that TOM is a core defect for autistics if you tested a whole range of spectrum members and found that not only could none of them do it, furthermore none of them could even learn it. I don't believe this for a second.

I think efforts to find the core cognitive defect in autism are probably doomed to failure, and when the answers come they'll come from neurobiology and genetic studies rather than from psychology. It's going to be one of life's mysteries for a while.

Yvette, please don't get discouraged because your son can't do TOM problems right now and other kids can: as with everything else, from speech to play to conversation and other social skills, our kids don't pick up perspective-taking naturally the way NT kids do, but they can learn it. I think what's upsetting to you is the idea that has been promoted in recent years, that TOM problems are diagnostic of autism and are permanent and intractable. I'll bet the Sumlins and others with recovered kids could tell you otherwise.

For what it's worth, I've also heard that TOM concepts are kind of shaky even in NT kids through ages 3 and 4.

Thank you, listers, for your help with our school problem. Your replies have been an enormous help, you just don't know how much. I would love to hear from anyone else who wants to weigh in on this issue, I am benefitting enormously from everyone's experiences.

Thank you again!

Love, Carolyn

Date: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 20:52:42 -0800 From: Steve Hamilton <arbutus@ISTAR.CA> Subject: theory of mind/reading and printing

****** This is a confidential, unmoderated list. ****** Responsibility for posts to this list lies entirely with the original author. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hi everyone,

In response to a few who have emailed me privately:

By the time we looked into "theory of mind" our son was nearly recovered. We realized that we had been working on this all along without realizing it. J loves Playmobil, so we did a lot of work with the dolls. "How do you think Robert feels?" "What do you think will happen if...?" We also did a lot of work with story books. Richard Scarry and Mercer Mayer are good. "Why did Anne say....? How do you think she felt?" Luckily J really liked these activities.

Having an aide at preschool helped as well. She would asked J, "Why do you think Cyril got so angry?" "Maybe he really wanted to play with the truck. Maybe he had a bad morning and he's feeling grumpy today. Maybe....." The aide would talk about the other children's feelings and emotions at lot.

By the time I found out about the simple theory of mind tests, my son had no problems passing the tests. (money, pencils, or candy in box) What a relief!

PS. The Distar method of teaching reading is so effective. "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons" is terrific. I highly recommend it. Thank-you to others on the me-list for letting me know about it. We compliment it with Sadlier Phonics and Working Words in Spelling. Both are colourful workbooks, published in the US, available through Nelson Canada. Another workbook we used previously was good also. I think it was called "The Fisher Price Giant Preschool Workbook." It was simple and colourful, and Fisher Price toys were featured.