Implicit and explicit Theory of Mind reasoning in autism spectrum disorders: The impact of experience

  • Schuwerk T
  • Vuori M
  • Sodian B
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This study aimed to investigate the relationship between explicit and implicit forms of Theory of Mind reasoning and to test the influence of experience on implicit Theory of Mind reasoning in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and in neurotypical adults. Results from two standard explicit Theory of Mind tasks are mixed: Individuals with autism spectrum disorders did not differ from neurotypical adults in their performance in the Strange Stories Test, but scored significantly lower on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. Furthermore, in an implicit false-belief task, individuals with autism spectrum disorders differed from neurotypical adults in false belief-congruent anticipatory looking. However, this group difference disappeared by (1) providing participants with the outcome of a false belief-based action and (2) subsequently repeating this test trial. Although the tendency to fixate the false belief-congruent location significantly increased from the first to the second test trial in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, it differed in neither test trial from chance. These findings support the notion of an implicit Theory of Mind deficit in autism spectrum disorders, but give rise to the idea that anticipatory looking behaviors in autism spectrum disorders may be affected by experience. Additionally, the pattern of results from implicit and explicit Theory of Mind measures supports the theory of two independent Theory of Mind reasoning systems.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Theory of Mind
  • anticipatory looking
  • autism spectrum disorders

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  • Tobias Schuwerk

  • Maria Vuori

  • Beate Sodian

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