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Psychological Theories on Theory of Mind - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 150
Theory of Mind/ToM/psychological theories: the hypothesis, of a lack of theory of mind (>Theory of Mind/Premack/Woodruff, >Theory of Mind/Dennett: “How does one demonstrate that an individual has the capacity to conceive mental states?”) in >autism has had a significant impact on the way cognitive researchers view the architecture of the mind
Slater I 151
and it has been taken as strong support for the idea that the human brain is equipped with a ToM module. In fact, following Baron-Cohen et al.’s (1985)(1) findings, autism soon became a test case for many theories of typical development where the ToM module is thought to play a central role (see e.g., Frith & Happé, 1995(2); Happé, 1993(3)). >False-Belief Task/Happé.
Slater I 152
ToM/Autism/VsBaron-Cohen: (see also >Autism/Baron-Cohen) ToM impairments are not specific to ASD and can also be found in a range of other conditions, most notably in schizophrenia (for a meta-analysis, see Sprong, Schothorst, Vos, Hox, & Van Engeland, 2007(4)) but also in unipolar and bipolar depression (e.g., Inoue, Tonooka, Yamada, & Kanba, 2004(5); Kerr, Dunbar, & Bentall, 2003(6)), conduct disorders (e.g., Happé & Frith, 1996)(7), right hemisphere damage (Surian & Siegal, 2001(8)), and other conditions. Similarly, the executive dysfunction account has been criticized for lacking specificity, with executive function deficits found in attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), etc. It is important to note, however, that these first two criticisms are problematic only If one considers that there ought to be a single explanation for all the symptoms found in ASD.
Slater I 153
What is relevant, (…) is whether the universality criterion (>Autism/psychological theories): is met. Indeed, if the ToM account is a valid explanation for the socialization and communication issues universally found in the condition, it follows that ToM deficits should also be universal. Therefore early experimental evidence demonstrating that some individuals diagnosed with an ASD did pass ToM task was rightly taken as a threat to the mindblindness hypothesis. In fact, Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Frith already acknowledged this problem in their 1985(1) paper.



1. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind.” Cognition,21, 13—125.
2. Frith, U., & Happé, F. (1995). Autism: Beyond ‘theory of mind.” In: J. Mehler& S. Franck (Eds), Cognition on cognition (pp. 13—30). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
3. Happé, F. (1993). Communicative competence and theory of mind in autism: A test of relevance theory. Cognition, 48, 101—119.
4. Sprong, M., Schothorst, P., Vos, E., Hox, J., & Van Engeland, H. (2007). Theory of mind in schizophrenia: meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 191, 5—13.
5. Inoue, Y., Tonooka, Y., Yamada, K., & Kanba, S. (2004). Deficiency of theory of mind in patients with remitted mood disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 82,403—409.
6. Kerr, N., Dunbar, R I. M., & Bentall, R. P. (2003). Theory of mind deficits in bipolar affective disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 73, 253—259.
7. Happé, F., & Frith, U. (1996). Theory of mind and social impairment in children with conduct disorder. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 14, 385-398.
8. Surian, L., & Siegal, M. (2001). Sources of performance on theory of mind tasks in right hemisphere damaged patients. Brain and Language, 78, 224—232.


Coralie Chevallier, “Theory of Mind and Autism. Beyond Baron-Cohen et al’s. Sally-Anne Study”, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-04-12
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