Baron-Cohen et al, 1997 (Autism) Flashcards Preview

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What is autism?

A disorder that is usually detected in childhood (around 4 years old). It's a lifelong disorder and generally find a few things difficult.


What are the three main areas people with autism find difficult?

-Social Interaction: difficulty with social relationships and often appear distant or indifferent to other people.
-Social Communication: difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication. E.g. They will take what someone says literally and find it difficult to understand facial expressions.
-Imagination: find it difficult to develop an imaginative play in their heads.


What is Asperger's syndrome/high functioning autism?

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism used to describe people who are usually at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum. People with Asperger syndrome usually have fewer problems with language than those with autism, often speaking fluently, though their words can sometimes sound formal or stilted. People with Asperger syndrome do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism; in fact, people with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence.


What are neurotypicals?

The name autistic call non-autistic people.


What causes autism?

-Genetics (family links- inherited)
-Could also develop because of an environmental hazard.


What is the THEORY OF MIND (TOM)?

The ability to know or predict how somebody is feeling.


What did Baron-Cohen wanted to show in his study?

That autism was the result of the failure to develop a specific cognitive (mental) skill: a theory of mind.


Describe the TOM test (Sally-Anne Test).

(First order)

In this test the child is presented with two dolls (Sally and Anne) a marble, a box and a basket. Sally puts her marble in her basket and leaves the room. Anne then moves the marble from the basket to her box. Sally returns and the child is asked, "Where will Sally look for her marble?"


Describe the second order, Sally-Anne test.

The child is then asked, "Where does Anne think that Sally will look for the ball?"


The Sally-Anne test isn't suitable for people with Asperger's syndrome because of the ceiling effect. What is the ceiling effect?

People should be able to do the test by a certain age. The test has a maximum upper limit.


What is Tourette's syndrome?

Mental disorder that affects how a person communicates due to tics etc.


What is the aim of the study?

To investigate if adults with autism can pass a mind reading/ TOM test designed for adults.


What was the method of the study?

Quasi experiment.


What was the IV and DV?

-IV: group the participant belonged to/ type of Ps.
-DV: performance on the eyes task.


Describe group 1.

-16 participants
-high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome
-normal intelligence
-13 men and 3 women.
-recruited using an advert in the NAS magazine as well as through clinics.


Describe group 2.

-50 age-matched controls
-25 male and 25 female
-no history of psychiatric disorder
-normal intelligence
-selected randomly from the subject panel held in the University Department.


Describe group 3.

-10 participants
-Tourette syndrome
-recruited from a referral centre in London
-age matched with groups 1 and 2
-8 men
-2 women
-normal intelligence


Why were participants with Tourette's syndrome included?

People with Tourette's were similar to people with autism (both developmental disorders experienced since childhood) but wanted to see if they had developed a theory of mind or not unlike people with autism who hadn't.


Describe the eyes task (given to all three groups).

The Eyes Task comprises of photographs of the eye region of 25 different male and female faces. The photos 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. The decision about what would count as "correct" was made by panel of four judges and confirmed by a further panel of eight rafters working independently.


Describe the strange stories task. (Autistic & Tourette's group)

Participants in groups 1&3 were also tested on Happes Strange Stories Task in order to demonstrate the validity of the Eyes Task as a test of TOM.

This task involved story comprehension, where the key question in the task either concerned a character's mental states (the experimental condition) or physical events (the control condition). It was found that both adults with autism or Asperger syndrome had more difficulty with the mental state task than normal control participants.

If it is a valid test then performance on the Eyes task should correlate with performance on the strange stories task. This is an example of concurrent validity.


Describe the control tasks-gender recognition (only Autistic/AS group).

Identifying the gender of the eyes used for the eye task. Such a judgement does not involve mind reading but does involve face perception, perceptual discrimination and/or social perception. Therefore this controls for any difficulties in those areas.


Describe the control tasks-basic emotion recognition (only Autistic/AS group).

Ps were asked to judge photos of whole faces which displayed the six basic emotions (happy, sad, angry, afraid, disgust and surprise). This was done to check of difficulties on the Eye task were due to difficulties with basic emotional recognition. This task is not the same as the eye task because it involves whole faces and only tests six emotions. Such differences makes it easier to recognise emotional states than the eye task.


What are the results for the eye task?

-Adults with autism/Asperger syndrome: 16.3
-'Normal' adults: 20.3
-Adults with Tourette syndrome: 20.4


What were the results from both genders on the eye task in the normal group?

-Normal males: 18.8
-Normal females: 21.8


What were the results from the strange stories task?

-No Ps with Tourette's syndrome made any mistakes whereas many of those Ps with autism/AS had difficulties with this task.
-On the gender and emotion control tasks, there were no differences between the groups.


What does the results show?

-Adults with autism or AS were impaired on a TOM test despite having normal intelligence.
-Within the normal population females do better on this test of TOM than males.


What were the strengths of the method used?

-experiment: "cause & effect"
-possible to control variables that could have had an affect on Ps behaviours.
-manipulating a naturally occurring variable means we can study real life events.
-establishing the validity of the eyes task through the use of a second TOM test- strange stories task. Ps performed similarly- concurrent validity.


What are the weaknesses of the method used?

-Low EV (test were unusual and weren't life like)
-More realistic to use films because in real life, you have the whole face and body postures to judge the way they're feeling.
-A characteristic of autism is the avoidance of eye contact so this group would have had a disadvantage.
-Test conditions could have been distressing for them (protection).


How representative was the sample?

-Small sample so hard to generalise to the whole population.
-Volunteers (not very representative)
-Different amounts of males and females in each groups.


What type of data was collected?

-Quantitative: scores of each Ps on the tests.



What would you change?

-Sample: it's quite small (especially the Tourette's and autism group) so use a bigger sample. It'd be more representative of the whole population so easier to generalise from. However, high functioning autism is rare so it'd be hard to get more sample from the group.
-Method: Improve EV by getting people to stand in front of them and show the emotions or use film clips. This means it can be generalised to real life situations. However, the test could become easier (ceiling effect) due to other influences such as body language or posture.