Autism is a pervasive neurodevelopment disorder, primarily encompassing difficulties in the social, language, and communicative domains. One of the most common social cognitive theories of autism is based on theory of mind (ToM), the “mentalizing” ability needed to infer that others have their own beliefs and desires in order to understand their behavior. In the current study, this hypothesis was tested using Wellman and Liu's scaled ToM tasks. These were employed in the assessment of ToM development of verbal, school-aged high-functioning boys with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The results indicated that children with ASD performed significantly worse than normal children on ToM tasks (Z = 4.7; P < 0 .001). However, it was shown that some of the ASD children were able to pass desire and false-belief tasks whereas none of them could succeed in knowledge and real-apparent emotion tasks.
Autobiographical memory (AM) and social cognition share common properties and both are affected in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). So far, most of the scant research in ASD has concerned adults, systematically reporting impairment of the episodic component. The only study to be conducted with children concluded that they have poorer personal semantic knowledge than typical developing children. The present study explores the development of both components of AM in an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, based on three examinations in 2007, 2008, and 2010. On each occasion, he underwent a general neuropsychological assessment including theory of mind (ToM) tasks, and a specially designed AM task allowing us to test both the semantic and the episodic components for three lifetime periods (current year, previous year, and earlier years). We observed difficulties in strategic retrieval and ToM, with a significant improvement between the second and third examinations. Regarding AM, different patterns of performance were noted in all three examinations: (1) relative preservation of current year personal knowledge, but impairment for the previous and earlier years, and (2) impairment of episodic memory for the current and previous year, but performances similar to those of controls for the earlier years. The first pattern can be explained by abnormal forgetting and by the semanticization mechanism, which needs verbal communication and social interaction to be efficient. The second pattern suggests that the development of episodic memory only reached the stage of “event memory.” This term refers to memory for personal events lacking in details or spatiotemporal specificity, and is usually observed in children younger than five. We conclude that the abnormal functioning of social cognition in ASD, encompassing social, and personal points of view, has an impact on both components of AM.
autobiographical memory; autism; child; theory of mind; episodic memory; semantic memory
Deficits in social cognition are an evident clinical feature of the Asperger syndrome (AS). Although many daily life problems of adults with AS are related to social cognition impairments, few studies have conducted comprehensive research in this area. The current study examined multiple domains of social cognition in adults with AS assessing the executive functions (EF) and exploring the intra and inter-individual variability. Fifteen adult's diagnosed with AS and 15 matched healthy controls completed a battery of social cognition tasks. This battery included measures of emotion recognition, theory of mind (ToM), empathy, moral judgment, social norms knowledge, and self-monitoring behavior in social settings. We controlled for the effect of EF and explored the individual variability. The results indicated that adults with AS had a fundamental deficit in several domains of social cognition. We also found high variability in the social cognition tasks. In these tasks, AS participants obtained mostly subnormal performance. EF did not seem to play a major role in the social cognition impairments. Our results suggest that adults with AS present a pattern of social cognition deficits characterized by the decreased ability to implicitly encode and integrate contextual information in order to access to the social meaning. Nevertheless, when social information is explicitly presented or the situation can be navigated with abstract rules, performance is improved. Our findings have implications for the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with AS as well as for the neurocognitive models of this syndrome.
Asperger syndrome; contextual social cognition; executive functions; individual variability
Velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS; 22q11.2 deletion syndrome) results from a genetic mutation that increases risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We compared Theory of Mind (ToM) skills in 63 individuals with VCFS (25% with an ASD diagnosis) and 43 typically-developing controls, and investigated the relationship of ToM to reciprocal social behavior. We administered a video-based task to assess mentalizing at two sites (UCLA and SUNY Upstate Medical University). The videos depicted interactions representing complex mental states (ToM condition), or simple movements (Random condition). Verbal descriptions of the videos were rated for Intentionality (i.e., mentalizing) and Appropriateness. Using Repeated Measures ANOVA, we assessed the effects of VCFS and ASD on Intentionality and Appropriateness, and the relationship of mentalizing to Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) scores. Results indicated that individuals with VCFS overall had lower Intentionality and Appropriateness scores than controls for ToM, but not for Random scenes. In the SUNY sample, individuals with VCFS, both with and without ASD, performed more poorly than controls on the ToM condition; however, in the UCLA sample, only individuals with VCFS without ASD performed significantly worse than controls on the ToM condition. Controlling for site and age, performance on the ToM condition was significantly correlated with SRS scores. Individuals with VCFS, regardless of an ASD diagnosis, showed impairments in the spontaneous attribution of mental states to abstract visual stimuli, which may underlie real-life problems with social interactions. A better understanding of the social deficits in VCFS is essential for the development of targeted behavioral interventions.
22q11.2 deletion syndrome; Velo-cardio-facial syndrome; Theory of Mind; Autism Spectrum Disorders; reciprocal social behavior; social cognition
The intersection of Theory of Mind (ToM) processing and complex narrative comprehension in high functioning autism was examined by comparing cortical activation during the reading of passages that required inferences based on either intentions, emotional states, or physical causality. Right hemisphere activation was substantially greater for all sentences in the autism group than in a matched control group suggesting decreased LH capacity in autism resulting in a spillover of processing to RH homologs. Moreover, the ToM network was disrupted. The autism group showed similar activation for all inference types in the right temporo-parietal component of the ToM network whereas the control participants selectively activated this network only when appropriate. The autism group had lower functional connectivity within the ToM network and also between the ToM and a left hemisphere language network. Furthermore, the within-network functional connectivity in autism was correlated with the size of the anterior portion of the corpus callosum.
Language; Inferences; fMRI; Functional connectivity; Corpus callosum; Cortical networks
Human social interaction is essential in daily life and crucial for a promising life, especially in people who suffer from disease. Theory of Mind (ToM) is fundamental in social interaction and is described as the ability to impute the mental states of others in social situations. Studies have proposed that a complex neuroanatomical network that includes the frontal cortex mediates ToM. The primary neuropathology of Parkinson’s disease (PD) involves the frontal-striatal system; therefore, patients with PD are expected to exhibit deficits in ToM. In this review, we summarize the current research with a particular focus on the patterns of impaired ToM, potential mediators of ToM, and the impact of ToM deficits on clinical disability in PD. Further studies to investigate the progression of ToM and its relationship with dementia in subjects in PD are needed.
Theory of mind; Social cognition; Neuropsychology; Cognitive function; Parkinson’s disease
We examined deaf and hearing children’s progression of steps in theory-of-mind (ToM) development including their understanding of social pretending. Ninety-three children (33 deaf; 60 hearing) aged 3 to 13 years were tested on a set of six closely-matched ToM tasks. Results showed that deaf children were delayed substantially behind hearing children in understanding pretending, false belief and other ToM concepts, in line with their delayed uptake of social pretend play. By using a scaling methodology, we confirmed previous evidence of a consistent five-step developmental progression for both groups. Moreover, by including social pretence understanding, both deaf and hearing children’s ToM sequences were shown to extend reliably to six sequential developmental steps. Finally and focally, even though both groups’ sequences were six steps long, the placement of pretence relative to other ToM milestones varied with hearing status. Deaf children understood social pretending at an earlier step in the ToM sequence than hearing children, albeit at a later chronological age. Theoretically, the findings are relevant to questions about how universal developmental progressions come together along with culturally-distinctive inputs and biological factors (such as hearing loss) to set the pace for ToM development.
Social functioning depends on the ability to attribute and reason about the mental states of others – an ability known as theory of mind (ToM). Research in this field is limited by the use of tasks in which ceiling effects are ubiquitous, rendering them insensitive to individual differences in ToM ability and instances of subtle ToM impairment. Here, we present data from a new ToM task – the Short Story Task (SST) - intended to improve upon many aspects of existing ToM measures. More specifically, the SST was designed to: (a) assess the full range of individual differences in ToM ability without suffering from ceiling effects; (b) incorporate a range of mental states of differing complexity, including epistemic states, affective states, and intentions to be inferred from a first- and second-order level; (c) use ToM stimuli representative of real-world social interactions; (d) require participants to utilize social context when making mental state inferences; (e) exhibit adequate psychometric properties; and (f) be quick and easy to administer and score. In the task, participants read a short story and were asked questions that assessed explicit mental state reasoning, spontaneous mental state inference, and comprehension of the non-mental aspects of the story. Responses were scored according to a rubric that assigned greater points for accurate mental state attributions that included multiple characters’ mental states. Results demonstrate that the SST is sensitive to variation in ToM ability, can be accurately scored by multiple raters, and exhibits concurrent validity with other social cognitive tasks. The results support the effectiveness of this new measure of ToM in the study of social cognition. The findings are also consistent with studies demonstrating significant relationships among narrative transportation, ToM, and the reading of fiction. Together, the data indicate that reading fiction may be an avenue for improving ToM ability.
Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to infer other people’s mental states like
intentions or desires. ToM can be differentiated into affective (i.e.,
recognizing the feelings of another person) and cognitive (i.e., inferring the
mental state of the counterpart) subcomponents. Recently, subcortical structures
such as the basal ganglia (BG) have also been ascribed to the multifaceted
concept ToM and most BG disorders have been reported to elicit ToM deficits. In
order to assess both the correlates of affective and cognitive ToM as well as
involvement of the basal ganglia, 30 healthy participants underwent
event-related fMRI scanning, neuropsychological testing, and filled in
questionnaires concerning different aspects of ToM and empathy. Directly
contrasting affective (aff) as well as cognitive (cog) ToM to the control (phy)
condition, activation was found in classical ToM regions, namely parts of the
temporal lobe including the superior temporal sulcus, the supplementary motor
area, and parietal structures in the right hemisphere. The contrast aff > phy
yielded additional activation in the orbitofrontal cortex on the right and the
cingulate cortex, the precentral and inferior frontal gyrus and the cerebellum
on the left. The right BG were recruited in this contrast as well. The direct
contrast aff > cog showed activation in the temporoparietal junction and the
cingulate cortex on the right as well as in the left supplementary motor area.
The reverse contrast cog > aff however did not yield any significant clusters.
In summary, affective and cognitive ToM partly share neural correlates but can
also be differentiated anatomically. Furthermore, the BG are involved in
affective ToM and thus their contribution is discussed as possibly providing a
motor component of simulation processes, particularly in affective ToM.
fMRI; affective and cognitive theory of mind; ToM; mentalizing; basal ganglia; simulation; social cognition
The ability to deduce other persons' mental states and emotions which has been termed ‘theory of mind (ToM)’ is highly heritable. First molecular genetic studies focused on some dopamine-related genes, while the genetic basis underlying different components of ToM (affective ToM and cognitive ToM) remain unknown. The current study tested 7 candidate polymorphisms (rs4680, rs4633, rs2020917, rs2239393, rs737865, rs174699 and rs59938883) on the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene. We investigated how these polymorphisms relate to different components of ToM. 101 adults participated in our study; all were genetically unrelated, non-clinical and healthy Chinese subjects. Different ToM tasks were applied to detect their theory of mind ability. The results showed that the COMT gene rs2020917 and rs737865 SNPs were associated with cognitive ToM performance, while the COMT gene rs5993883 SNP was related to affective ToM, in which a significant gender-genotype interaction was found (p = 0.039). Our results highlighted the contribution of DA-related COMT gene on ToM performance. Moreover, we found out that the different SNP at the same gene relates to the discriminative aspect of ToM. Our research provides some preliminary evidence to the genetic basis of theory of mind which still awaits further studies.
Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) participate in social skills or Theory of Mind (ToM) treatments. However, few studies have shown evidence for their effectiveness. The current study used a randomized controlled design to test the effectiveness of a 16-week ToM treatment in 8–13 year old children with ASD and normal IQs (n = 40). The results showed that, compared to controls, the treated children with ASD improved in their conceptual ToM skills, but their elementary understanding, self reported empathic skills or parent reported social behaviour did not improve. Despite the effects on conceptual understanding, the current study does not indicate strong evidence for the effectiveness of a ToM treatment on the daily life mindreading skills.
Autism; Treatment; Theory of Mind; Social cognition; Randomized controlled trial
Theory of Mind (ToM) has received significant research attention. Traditional ToM research has provided important understanding of how humans reason about mental states by utilizing shared world knowledge, social cues, and the interpretation of actions; however, many current behavioral paradigms are limited to static, “third-person” protocols. Emerging experimental approaches such as cognitive simulation and simulated social interaction offer opportunities to investigate ToM in interactive, “first-person” and “second-person” scenarios while affording greater experimental control. The advantages and limitations of traditional and emerging ToM methodologies are discussed with the intent of advancing the understanding of ToM in socially mediated situations.
theory of mind (ToM); social perception; cognitive simulation; simulated social interaction; social cognition
The ability to attribute different mental states to distinct individuals, or Theory of Mind (ToM), is widely believed to be developed mostly during preschool years. How different factors such as gender, number of siblings, or coarse personality traits affect this development is not entirely agreed upon. Here, we introduce a computerized version of the scaled ToM suite of tasks introduced by Wellman and Liu (2004), which allows us to meaningfully test ToM development on children 6 to 8-years old. We find that kids this age are still not entirely proficient in all ToM tasks, and continue to show a progression of performance with age. By testing this new age range, too, we are able to observe a significant advantage of girls over boys in ToM performance. Other factors such as number of siblings, birth order, and coarse personality traits show no significant relation with the ToM task results. Finally, we introduce a novel way to quantify the scaling property of the suite involving a sequence of set inclusions on one hand and a comparison between specially tailored sets of logistic models on the other. These measures confirm the validity of the scale in the 6- to 8-years old range.
Theory of Mind; scaling; mental states; development; gender differences
Although hindsight bias (the “I knew it all along” phenomenon) has been documented in adults, its development has not been investigated. This is despite the fact that hindsight bias errors closely resemble the errors children make on theory of mind (ToM) tasks. Two main goals of the present work were to (a) create a battery of hindsight tasks for preschoolers, and (b) assess the relation between children’s performance on these and ToM tasks. In two experiments involving 144 preschoolers, 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds exhibited strong hindsight bias. Performance on hindsight and ToM tasks was significantly correlated independent of age, language ability, and inhibitory control. These findings contribute to a more comprehensive account of perspective taking across the lifespan.
Theory of mind (ToM)—our ability to predict behaviors of others in terms of their underlying intentions—has been examined through false-belief (FB) tasks. We studied 12 Japanese early bilingual children (8−12 years of age) and 16 late bilingual adults (18−40 years of age) with FB tasks in Japanese [first language (L1)] and English [second language (L2)], using fMRI. Children recruited more brain regions than adults for processing ToM tasks in both languages. Moreover, children showed an overlap in brain activity between the L1 and L2 ToM conditions in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Adults did not show such a convergent activity in the mPFC region, but instead, showed brain activity that varied depending on the language used in the ToM task. The developmental shift from more to less ToM specific brain activity may reflect increasing automatization of ToM processing as people age. These results also suggest that bilinguals recruit different resources to understand ToM depending on the language used in the task, and this difference is greater later in life.
fMRI; theory of mind; cognitive development; language; bilingualism; medial prefrontal cortex
We examined the relation between cognitive development and fear, anxiety, and behavioral inhibition in a non-clinical sample of 226 Dutch children aged 4–9 years. To assess cognitive development, children were tested with Piagetian conservation tasks and a Theory-of-Mind (TOM) test. Fears were measured by means of a self-report scale completed by the children, while anxiety symptoms and behavioral inhibition were indexed by rating scales that were filled out by parents. Significant age trends were observed for some anxiety phenomena. For example, younger children displayed higher fear scores, whereas older children exhibited higher levels of generalized anxiety. Most importantly, results of regression analyses (in which we controlled for age) indicated that cognitive development, and in particular TOM ability, made a unique and significant contribution to various domains of behavioral inhibition. In all cases, higher levels of TOM were associated with lower levels of behavioral inhibition. In general, percentages of explained variance were rather small (i.e., <6%), indicating that the role of cognitive development in various anxiety phenomena is limited.
Anxiety; Fear; Behavioral inhibition; Developmental patterns; Cognitive development; Children
Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to attribute thoughts, intentions and beliefs to others. This involves component processes, including cognitive perspective taking (cognitive ToM) and understanding emotions (affective ToM). This study assessed the distinction and overlap of neural processes involved in these respective components, and also investigated their development between adolescence and adulthood. While data suggest that ToM develops between adolescence and adulthood, these populations have not been compared on cognitive and affective ToM domains. Using fMRI with 15 adolescent (aged 11–16 years) and 15 adult (aged 24–40 years) males, we assessed neural responses during cartoon vignettes requiring cognitive ToM, affective ToM or physical causality comprehension (control). An additional aim was to explore relationships between fMRI data and self-reported empathy. Both cognitive and affective ToM conditions were associated with neural responses in the classic ToM network across both groups, although only affective ToM recruited medial/ventromedial PFC (mPFC/vmPFC). Adolescents additionally activated vmPFC more than did adults during affective ToM. The specificity of the mPFC/vmPFC response during affective ToM supports evidence from lesion studies suggesting that vmPFC may integrate affective information during ToM. Furthermore, the differential neural response in vmPFC between adult and adolescent groups indicates developmental changes in affective ToM processing.
Theory of Mind; empathy; adolescence; development; fMRI
Social cognitive psychologists (Frith, 1992; Hardy-Baylé et al., 2003) sought to explain the social problems and clarify the clinical picture of schizophrenia by proposing a model that relates many of the symptoms to a problem of metarepresentation, i.e., theory of mind (ToM). Given the differences in clinical samples and results between studies, and considering the wide range of what is considered to constitute ToM, one must ask if there a core function, or is ToM multifaceted with dissociable facets? If, there are dissociable dimensions or facets, which are affected in patients with paranoid schizophrenia? To answer these questions, a group of 21 individuals diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and 29 non-clinical control subjects, were tested on a battery of five different measures of ToM. The results confirmed that there was little difference in specificity of three of the tests in distinguishing between the clinical and non-clinical group, but there were important differences in the shared variance between the tests. Further analyses hint at two dimensions although a single factor with the same variance and the same contributing weights in both groups could explain the results. The deficits related to the attribution of cognitive and affective states to others inferred from available verbal and non-verbal information. Further analyses revealed that incorrect attributions of mental states including the attribution of threatening intentions to others, non-interpretative responses and incomplete answers, depending on the test of ToM.
schizophrenia; paranoid symptoms; theory of mind; overmentalization; undermentalization; test specificity
The present study aims at clarifying the nature of the Theory of Mind (ToM) deficits associated with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). ToM is the ability to attribute mental states such as intentions and beliefs to others in order to understand and predict their behaviour and to behave accordingly. Several neuroimaging studies reported the prefrontal cortices as the brain region underlying a key ToM ability, i.e. the comprehension of social intentions. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortices in patients with ALS has been indicated by a range of neuroimaging studies. The frontal syndrome that appears to characterize up to 50% of ALS has been noted to be similar to the profile that characterizes patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a neurodegenerative condition characterised by ToM deficits. In the present paper, we hypothesize that the performance of patients with ALS is significantly worse than healthy controls' performance on tasks requiring the comprehension of social contexts, whereas patients' performance is comparable to healthy controls' performance on tasks not requiring the comprehension of social contexts. To this end, we tested 15 patients with ALS with an experimental protocol that distinguishes between private (non-social) intentions and social intentions. The pattern of results followed the experimental hypothesis: the performance of patients with ALS and healthy controls significantly differed on the comprehension of social context only, with an impairment in patients with ALS. Single case analysis confirmed the findings at an individual level. The present study is the first which has examined and compared the understanding of social and non-social contexts in patients with ALS and shown a specific and selective deficit in the former only. The current findings further support the notion of a continuum of cognitive dysfunction ranging from ALS to FTD, with parallel cognitive profiles in both disorders.
Theory of mind (ToM) has been defined as our ability to predict behaviors of others in terms of their underlying intentions. While the developmental trajectory of ToM had been thought to be invariant across cultures, several ToM studies conducted outside the Anglo-American cultural or linguistic milieus have obtained mixed results. To examine effects of culture/language on the development of neural bases of ToM, we studied 12 American monolingual children and 12 Japanese bilingual children with second-order false-belief story and cartoon tasks, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While a few brain regions such as ventro-medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and precuneus were recruited by the both cultural/linguistic groups, several brain areas including inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) were employed in a culture/language-dependent manner during the ToM tasks. These results suggest that the neural correlates of ToM may begin to vary depending upon cultural/linguistic background from early in life.
Theory of mind (ToM) - our ability to predict behaviors of others in terms of their underlying intentions - has been examined through verbal and nonverbal false-belief (FB) tasks. Previous brain imaging studies of ToM in adults have implicated medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) for adults’ ToM ability. To examine age and modality related differences and similarities in neural correlates of ToM, we tested 16 adults (18-40 years-old) and 12 children (8-12 years-old) with verbal (story) and nonverbal (cartoon) FB tasks, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Both age groups showed significant activity in the TPJ bilaterally and right inferior parietal lobule (IPL) in a modality-independent manner, indicating that these areas are important for ToM during both adulthood and childhood, regardless of modality. We also found significant age-related differences in the ToM condition-specific activity for the story and cartoon tasks in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and left TPJ. These results suggest that depending on the modality adults may utilize different brain regions from children in understanding ToM.
fMRI; Theory of Mind; Cognitive Development; Language; Temporo-parietal junction
In research on theory of mind (ToM), false belief paradigms are commonly used. Previous studies have reported that there is heterogeneity in the magnitude of impairment on false belief tasks. Moreover, intact ability to attribute others’ false beliefs has been widely reported in patients with remitted schizophrenia. Increasingly, evidence suggests that there may be different cognitive mechanisms underlying the understanding others’ false beliefs versus applying one’s knowledge of others’ false beliefs. Since the role of psychotic symptoms in ToM impairments is an important issue in the study of ToM deficits in schizophrenia, we examined both remitted schizophrenia and non-remitted schizophrenia, with the aim to investigate whether psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia are associated with deficits in understanding others’ mental states or difficulties in applying this understanding.
The present study investigated 29 patients with non-remitted schizophrenia, 19 patients with remitted schizophrenia, and 22 healthy controls with a revised computerized referential communication task. The ability to understand others’ false beliefs and the ability to apply others’ false beliefs were measured separately.
Patients with non-remitted schizophrenia performed significantly worse than patients with remitted schizophrenia and healthy controls on a task of understanding others’ false beliefs, whereas no significant difference was found between the patients with remitted schizophrenia and healthy controls. Both the patients with non-remitted schizophrenia and patients with remitted schizophrenia performed significantly worse than healthy controls on a task of applying others’ false beliefs.
Our findings suggested a dissociation of understanding others’ false beliefs from applying others’ false beliefs in remitted schizophrenia. We preliminarily conclude that deficits in the ToM ability of applying knowledge of others’ mental states might be state-dependent.
Theory of mind; Schizophrenia; False belief; Referential communication task; Perspective taking
It is now well accepted that theory of mind (ToM) functioning is impaired in Parkinson’s
disease (PD) patients. However, what remain unknown are the functions that underlie this impairment.
It has been suggested that cognitive skills may be key in this area of functioning; however, many of
the cognitive tests used to assess this have relied on intact visuospatial abilities. This study
aimed to examine whether deficits in ToM were generated by cognitive or visuospatial dysfunction and
the mediating effect of visuospatial function on ToM performance. Fifty PD patients (31 male, 19
female; mean age = 66.34 years) and 49 healthy controls (16 male, 33 female; mean age = 67.29 years)
completed a ToM task (reading the mind in the eyes) and visuospatial task (line orientation). The
results revealed that current cognitive status was a significant predictor for performance on the
ToM task, and that 54% of the total effect of cognitive status on ToM was mediated by visuospatial
abilities. It was concluded that visuospatial functioning plays an important mediating role for the
relationship between executive dysfunction and affective ToM deficits in PD patients, and that
visuospatial deficits may directly contribute to the presence of affective ToM difficulties seen in
individuals with PD.
Parkinson’s disease; theory of mind; visuospatial function; social cognition; executive function
“Theory of mind” (ToM) has been described as the ability to attribute and understand other people’s desires and intentions as distinct from one’s own. There has been a debate about the extent to which language influences ToM development. Although very few studies directly examined linguistic influence on the neural basis of ToM, results from these studies indicate at least moderate influence of language on ToM. In this review both behavioral and neurological studies that examined the relationship between language and ToM are selectively discussed. This review focuses on cross-linguistic / cultural studies (especially Japanese vs. American / English) since my colleagues and I found evidence of significant linguistic influence on the neural basis of ToM through a series of functional brain imaging experiments. Evidence from both behavioral and neurological studies of ToM (including ours) suggests that the pragmatic (not the constitutive) aspects of language influence ToM understanding more significantly.
Theory of mind; language development; fMRI; pragmatics; Japanese.
Neuroconstructivist theories of development highlight the potential effect one developmental domain may have on constraining or facilitating another. Empirical validation of this theory requires further testing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and may illuminate the complex interplay of developmental trajectories, particularly in the relationship between predictor and outcome variables. In ASD, language ability is an early predictor of important functional outcomes such as communication and socialization. We aimed to investigate whether theory of mind (ToM) mediates the relation between language ability and adaptive functioning in more cognitively able children with ASD (IQ > 70).
Thirty-nine children were followed prospectively every two years from 4–6 years to 12–14 years. Their language and theory of mind abilities and adaptive functioning were tested using the Test of Language Development-2 (the independent variable, at age 6–8 years), the “Eyes Test” (a measure of ToM, the mediator, at age 10–12) and the Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales (the outcome variable, at age 12–14).
ToM mediated an association between language and adaptive functioning in the communication domain, but not in the social domain.
These results challenge the usefulness of ToM as a unifying theory for ASD deficits and highlight the potential usefulness of a neuroconstructivist framework for prospective studies.
autism; Asperger Syndrome; language; theory of mind; mediation; autisme; syndrome d’Asperger; langage; théorie de l’esprit; médiation