Dictionary of Arguments


Philosophical and Scientific Issues in Dispute
 
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Reference
Autism Psychological Theories Slater I 148
Autism/psychological theories: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are characterized by a triad of symptoms: impaired social development, impaired communication skills and a narrow repertoire of interests and activities. Over the last three decades, a number of theories have been put forward to explain this unique combination of impairments. Kanner: The disease was first described in 1943 by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner who reported the case of 11 children presenting a combination of symptoms that was unique enough to call it a separate syndrome: the fundamental disorder, he explained, “is the children’s inability to relate themselves in the ordinary way to people and situations from the beginning of life” (Kanner, 1943)(1).
Asperger: Hans Asperger reported a similar condition in a group of four children observed in his Vienna practice and concluded his paper in similar ways to Kanner: “the fundamental disorder of autistic individuals” he argued, “is the limitation of their social relationships” (Asperger, 1944)(2).
Slater I 150
Autism/psychological theories: the hypothesis, of a lack of theory of mind (ToM; >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 (Theory of Mind) module. In fact, following Baron-Cohen et al.’s (1985)(3) 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(4); Happé, 1993(5)). >False-Belief Task/Happé. The “mindblindness” hypothesis prompted an enormous amount of research designed to assess the scope of the theory and to derive further predictions from it.
Happé/Frith: (Happé and Frith 1995)(4) the model put forward by Baron-Cohen et al. (1985)(1) is useful to the study of child development (…) because it allowed for a systematic approach to the impaired and unimpaired social and communicative behavior of people with autism. >VsBaron-Cohen.
Slater I 152
Two important cognitive accounts of non-social deficits in ASDs, which have been mainly construed as compatible with the ToM account but offer additional explanatory power, were put forward. These are: 1) the executive dysfunction hypothesis, referring to a difficulty in planning how to achieve a goal and a tendency to become fixated on one activity or object, which accounts more specifically for the stereotypes (including repetitive and stereotyped motor activities), planning difficulties, and impulsiveness (Ozonoff, Pennington, & Rogers, 1991(6)) often found in the condition; and
2) Weak Central Coherence, (a difficulty in combining several pieces of information to form an overall understanding of an issue), which provides an interesting account for the peaks of abilities observed in tasks requiring detail-focused rather than holistic processing (Frith & Happé, 1995(4); Happé, 1999(7)).
Slater I 153
It has been argued that autism ought to be tackled by a multiple-deficit approach and that “it is time to give up on a single explanation for autism” (Happé, Ronald, & Plomin, 2006(8); see also Pennington, 2006(9)). Construed within this multiple deficit framework, neither the fact that ToM deficits can be found in other conditions, nor the fact that ToM deficits do not explain the third element of the triad

1) The ToM account does not provide a full account auf autism.
2) ToM deficits are not specific to autism,
3) ToM deficits are not universal in autism;

(or, for that matter, many other features of autism like motor clumsiness, sensory sensitivities, and so on) are relevant to assess the validity of the account.



1. Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217—2 50.
2. Asperger, H. (1944). Die “Autistischen Psychopathen” im Kindesalter. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 117,76—136.
3. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind.” Cognition, 21, 13—125.
4. 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.
5. Happé, F. (1993). Communicative competence and theory of mind in autism: A test of relevance theory. Cognition, 48, 101—119.
6. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F., & Rogers, S. J. (1991). Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals: Relationship to theory of mind. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1081—1105.
7. Happé, F. (1999). Autism: cognitive deficit or cognitive style? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3, 216— 222.
8. Happé, F., Ronald, A., & Plomin, R. (2006). Time to give up on a single explanation for autism. Nature Neuroscience, 9, 1218—1220.
9. Pennington, B. F. (2006). From single to multiple deficit models of developmental disorders. Cognition, 101,385—413.



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


Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012
Autism Social Psychology Slater I 157
Autism/social psychology: it turned out, that studies maintaining difficulties of autists in ToM tests (>Theory of Mind/ToM/psychological theories, >Theory of Mind/Baron-Cohen, >Theory of Mind/developmental psychology) are not always replicated. >VsBaron-Cohen. Researchers have argued, that there is less of a deficit in social cognition than previously thought (>Baron-Cohen et al. 1985(1)) and that some of the poorer performances in
Slater I 158
social cognition tasks may be imputed to diminished social orientation (Dawson, Meltzoff, Osterling, Rinaldi, & Brown, 1998(2); Schultz, 2005)(3). If this is the case, performances in these tasks should be boosted when social orienting is enhanced by extrinsic factors. Speaking to this idea, Wang and collaborators (Wang, Lee, Sigman, & Dapretto, 2007)(4) compared neutral instructions (“Pay close attention”) and explicit social instructions (“Pay close attention to the face and voice”) in a recent study on the neural correlates of irony comprehension in autism.
A similar effect of explicit instructions was also recently found in a task where participants heard both speech and non-speech sounds. In line with previous research (Ceponiene et al., 2003)(5), children with autism had atypical ERP (Event Related Potentials) profiles in response to speech sounds, but not to non-speech sounds.
However, this difference disappeared when participants were explicitly required to pay attention to the sound stream.
In other words, what performance in social tasks might primarily reveal may not be so much what participants are able to do but rather what they are spontaneously inclined to do (see also Chevallier, Noveck, Happé, & Wilson, 2011)(6).


1. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind.” Cognition, 21, 13—125.
2. Dawson, G., Meitzoff, A., Osterling, J., Rinaldi, J., & Brown, E. (1998). Children with autism fail to orient to naturally occurring social stimuli. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28,479— 485.
3. Schultz, R. (2005). Developmental deficits in social perception in autism: the role of the amygdala and fusiform face area. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 23, 125—141.
4. Wang, A., Lee, S., Sigman, M., & Dapretto, M. (2007). Reading affect in the face and voice: Neural correlates of interpreting communicative intent in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 698—708.
5. Ceponiene, R., Lepisto, T., Shestakova, A., Vanhala, R., Alku, P., Naatanen, R., & Yaguchi, K. (2003). Speech-sound-selective auditory impairment in children with autism: They can perceive but do not attend. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100, 5567—5572.
6. Chevalier, C., Noveck, I., Happé, F., & Wilson, D. (201 1). What’s in a voice? Prosody as a test case for the Theory of Mind account of autism. Neuropsychologia, 49,507—517.



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


Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012
Autism Baron-Cohen Slater I 150
Autism/ToM/Theory of Mind/Baron-Cohen: In order to test their hypothesis that children with autism lack a theory of mind (>Theory of Mind/Dennett, >False-Belief Task/psychological theories), Baron-Cohen et al. (1985)(1) presented this task to 20 children with autism, 14 children with Down’s syndrome (DS), and 27 typically developing (TD) children. In line with their predictions, they found that as many as 16 of the 20 children with autism failed the task whereas children with Down’s syndrome and TD children passed it 86% and 85% of the time, respectively. The results were all the more striking given that average intelligence levels in the autism group exceeded both that of the DS and of the TD group and that every participant in the autism group succeeded in answering both control questions. The authors interpreted these results as evidence for a selective impairment in mentalistic reasoning in autism, independently of general intelligence or general reasoning abilities. In other words, the reason why participants in the autism group fail the belief question is that they are unable to grasp that Sally’s belief about where the marble is hidden is different from their own knowledge of where the marble really is: they lack the ability to represent other people’s mental states. >False-Belief Task/Happé.
Slater I 152
VsBaron-Cohen: 1) The ToM account does not provide a full account auf autism. 2) ToM deficits are not specific to autism,
3) ToM deficits are not universal in autism.
There are now theories about the non-social features of autism, including restricted repertoire of interests, insistence on sameness, and peaks of abilities (e.g., enhanced rote memory, higher prevalence of savant skills, increased perception of pitch etc.). >Autism/psychological theories.
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
If (…) one considers, that such a unitary explanation is unlikely to exist, absence of specificity and lack of explanatory power for non-social features of autism are no longer issues. >Theory of Mind/Baron-Cohen, >Autism/psychological theories.

1. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind.” Cognition, 21, 13—125.


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


Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012
Emotions Baron-Cohen Slater I 156
Emotions/test/autism/Baron-Cohen: As an example of this, a recent revision of the “Reading the Mind in the Voice task,” in which participants are asked to identify the speaker’s mental or emotional state based on her tone of voice (Golan, Baron-Cohen, Hill, & Rutherford, 2007)(1) increased the sensitivity of the test by removing items for which ASD participants had obtained similar performances to the controls in the previous version of the test (Rutherford, Baron-Cohen, & Wheelwright, 2002(2). By removing these items, the authors indeed created a better tool to distinguish the two groups, but the tool should no longer be used to assess ToM skills in the condition. Yet, the authors conclude from the group differences they identify that individuals in the autism group have “greater difficulties recognizing complex emotions and mental states from stimuli.” A further problem with more advanced tests of ToM is that they lack the essential representationality criteria spelled out by Dennett (1978)(3). >Theory of Mind/Dennett.
Slater I 157
VsBaron-Cohen: Instead, what these tests do is increase non-ToM demands on the participant.
1. Golan, O., Baron-Cohen, S., Hill, J., & Rutherford, M. (2007). The “reading the mind in the voice” test-revised: A study of complex emotion recognition in adults with and without autism spectrum conditions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1096—1 106.
2. Rutherford, M, Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2002). Reading the mind in the voice: A study with normal adults and adults with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 189—194.
3. Dennett, D. (1978). Beliefs about beliefs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 568-570.


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


Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012
Theory of Mind Psychological Theories 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


Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012
Theory of Mind Developmental Psychology Slater I 155
Theory of Mind/ToM/false-belief task/FBT/developmental psychology: recent research in developmental pragmatics show that preverbal infants spontaneously take their audience’s perspective. 12-month olds’ pointing behaviors are best understood by positing that they are in some sense trying to influence the audience’s mental states (see Liszkowski, Carpenter, Henning, Striano, & Tomasello, 2004(1); Liszkowski, Carpenter, & Tomasello, 2007(2); Tomasello, Carpenter, & Liszkowski, 2007(3)). Conversely, infants are able to interpret adults’ points and gaze direction as cues to their communicative intentions. In particular, infants use these behaviors in word learning situations as crucial cues to the speaker’s referential intent (Bloom, 2000(4); Nurmsoo & Bloom, 2008(5)). More strikingly still, recent research demonstrates that manipulating whether or not a communicator has a false belief leads 17 month-olds to different interpretations of the same communicative act, thereby demonstrating early mental state attribution in pragmatic contexts (Southgate, Chevallier, & Csibra, 2010(6); for similar results in an active helping paradigm, see Buttelmann, Carpenter, & Tomasello, 2009(7)). These recent results using behavioral measures also answer one of the standard criticisms formulated against violation of expectancy paradigms (as in Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005(8), and Surian, Caldi, & Sperber, 2007(9)), namely that indirect measures — such as looking times — cannot be straightforwardly used to infer complex underlying cognitive process.
VsBaron-Cohen: these results show that caution is needed when interpreting failures at the Sally-Anne task. (>Autism/Baron-Cohen, >False-Belief Task/psychological theories).


1 Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M., Henning, A., Striano, T., & Tomasello, M. (2004). Twelve-month-olds point to share attention and interest. Developmental Science 7, 29 7—307.
2. Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Reference and attitude in infant pointing. Journal of Child Language, 34, 1—20.
3. Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., & Liszkowski, U. (2007). A new look at infant pointing. Child Development, 78, 705—722.
4. Bloom, P. (2000). How children learn the meanings of words. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
5. Nurmsoo, E., & Bloom, P. (2008). Preschoolers’ perspective taking in word learning: Do they blindly follow eye gaze? Psychological Science, 19, 211—215.
6. Southgate, V., Chevallier, C., & Csibra, G. (2010). 1 7-month-olds appeal to false beliefs to interpret others’ communication. Developmental Science, 13, 907—912.
7. Buttelmann, D., Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Eighteen-month-old infants show false belief understanding in an active helping paradigm. Cognition, 1 12, 337—342.
8. Onishi, K. H., & Baillargeon, R. (2005). Do 15-month-old infants understand false beliefs? Science, 308,5719,255—258.
9. Surian, L., Caldi, S., & Sperber, D. (2007). Attribution of beliefs by 13-month-old infants. Psychological Science, 18, 580—586.


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


Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012
Theory of Mind Baron-Cohen Slater I 149
Theory of Mind/ToM/autism/false-belief task/Baron-Cohen: How does one demonstrate that an individual has the capacity to conceive mental states? Baron-Cohen et al. 1985)(1) children are told a story involving two dolls, Sally and Anne, playing with a marble. Sally puts the marble away in a basket, and leaves the room. In Sally’s absence, Anne takes the marble out and plays with it.
Once she has finished playing, she puts the marble away in a box. Sally returns and the child is asked where Sally will look for the marble. The child passes the task if she answers that Sally will look where she first put the marble; the child fails the task if she answers that Sally will look in the box (where the marble really is). Two additional control questions are asked to make sure that the child understood the scenario: a reality question: “Where is the marble really?” and a memory question: “Where was the marble at the beginning?”
Slater I 152
VsBaron-Cohen:
1) The ToM account does not provide a full account auf autism. 2) ToM deficits are not specific to autism,
3) ToM deficits are not universal in autism.
There are now theories about the non-social features of autism, including restricted repertoire of interests, insistence on sameness, and peaks of abilities (e.g., enhanced rote memory, higher prevalence of savant skills, increased perception of pitch etc.). >Autism/psychological theories.
Slater I 152
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
If (…) one considers, that such a unitary explanation is unlikely to exist, absence of specificity and lack of explanatory power for non-social features of autism are no longer issues.

1. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind.” Cognition, 21, 13—125.


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


Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012