Animal Faux Pas: Two Legs Good Four Legs Bad for Theory of Mind, but Not in the Broad Autism Spectrum

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Abstract

Research shows that the general population varies with regard to both autistic traits and theory of mind (ToM) ability. Other work has shown that autistic individuals may not underperform on ToM tests when the agent of evaluation is anthropomorphic rather than typically human. Two studies examined the relation between ToM and autistic trait profiles in over 650 adults using either the standard Faux Pas Recognition Test (FPT) or an anthropomorphized version of the FPT (FPTa). Results showed that autistic trait profiles were related to faux pas detection ability in the FPT but not the FPTa. Furthermore, while those with the broad autism phenotype scored significantly worse than those who were typically developed on the FPT, scores did not significantly differ on the FPTa. These findings add to a growing body of work suggesting that ToM ability is not at a global deficit in those on the autistic spectrum, but may relate to the mindreading of specifically human agents.

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Atherton, G., & Cross, L. (2019). Animal Faux Pas: Two Legs Good Four Legs Bad for Theory of Mind, but Not in the Broad Autism Spectrum. Journal of Genetic Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221325.2019.1593100

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