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Flashcards in Theory Of Mind (TOM) Deck (14):

What is Theory of Mind? (ToM)

It is NOT a psychological theory.

It is our personal understanding of what other people are thinking and feeling. Sometimes called “mind-reading”


The emergence of simple TOM can be seen in toddlers by means of intentional reasoning research.
What method can be used to to assess a more sophisticated level of TOM in 3-4 year olds?

False belief task


Why were false belief tasks developed?

In order to test whether children can understand that people can believe something that’s not true.


Wimmer and Perner false belief task:

-they told 3 & 4 year olds a story in which Max left his chocolate in a blue cupboard in the kitchen and then went to the playground
-later his mother used some chocolate in her cooking and put it back in the green cupboard
-the children were asked where Max would look for his chocolate when he gets back

- most 3 year olds answered incorrectly and said he would look in the green cupboard
-BUT most 4 year olds correctly identified the blue cupboard

This suggests that TOM undergoes a shift and becomes more advanced at around 4 years old.


Sally Ann study as an example of false belief test and used to assess Theory of Mind:

-sally puts her ball in a basket, while she is out of the room, Anne moves the ball to a box
-the child sees all of this happening
-then sally comes back into the room to look for her ball; the child is asked where Sally will look


What will children with a Theory of Mind say in response to the Sally Ann study?

They will understand that Sally and Anne think differently i.e. that Sally will look for the ball in the place that she put it ( because she doesn’t know what Anne knows)


What will children with NO Theory of Mind say in response to the Sally Ann study?

They cannot understand that Sally and Anne think differently or that Sally thinks differently to themselves.
If the child knows that the ball is now in the box, they will assume that everyone else sees the world like this too.


Theory of Mind in typical development: Baron Cohen

-developing children develop the theory of Mind at around 4 years old. This is the same time they usually start pretend play where one object symbolises another.

At this age typically developing children are able to understand that other people have their own minds and think differently.

The ability to read minds about what other people believe to be the case in any given situation allows us to predict what they will do.
Lacking this ability would make social interaction very difficult and the absence of a theory of Mind would explain the core deficits of autism.


Mind blindness in children with autism: Baron Cohen

Baron Cohen thinks autistic children do not develop a theory of Mind and therefore are unable to develop the complex skills of social interaction that other children develop easily.

Described this as mind-blindness

Suggests that autistic individuals are not able to represent to themselves the inner mental states of others and therefore unable to think about how others might think or feel, which explains why they find other people’s behaviour confusing and unpredictable.


Baron Cohen study to show that ASD (autistic syndrome disorder) involves a TOM deficit:

20 high functioning children diagnosed as being ASD and control group of 14 children with Down’s syndrome and 27 without a diagnosis were individually administered the Sally Ann test

RESULTS: -85% if children in the control group correctly identified where Sally would look for her marble
-however only 4 if the children in the ASD group were able to answer it
-this difference demonstrates that ASD involves a TOM deficit


What is Asperger syndrome?

A type of ASD characterised by problems with empathy, social communication and imagination but normal language development.


Baron Cohen research on adults struggling with Asperger’s syndrome:

-studies of older children and adults with AS showed that this group succeeded easily in false belief tasks

-but Baron-Cohen developed a more challenging task: the eye task

-the eye task involves reading complex emotions in pictures of faces just showing the eyes

-they found adults with AS struggles with the eyes test and so supported the idea that TOM deficits might be a cause of ASD.


Evaluation of the Sally-Ann task:

-most research on theory of Mind use the Sally-Ann task

-BUT Bloom and German suggest it lacks validity because to succeed it requires other cognitive abilities, for example memory. This is a lot of information for a 3 year old to remember.
- some studies have given ASD children visual aids to help them remember and found younger ASD children often succeed.


Evaluation of TOM:

-TOM research has been extremely useful in helping others understand the experiences of those on the autistic spectrum

HOWEVER, TOM and perspective taking appear to be closely related cognitive abilities. The problem is that many of the methods used to study TOM could be simple measures of perspective taking.
The perspective taking tasks also distinguish between children on the autistic spectrum and others, just like performance on the TOM.

The possibility that much of the research into TOM May simply be measuring perspective taking is a further challenge to the validity of TOM research