Fact sheet on theory of mind in the context of Autism and Asperger's syndrome


The phrase "theory of mind" refers to a specific cognitive capacity: the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own. Empathy is a related concept, meaning experientially recognizing and understanding the states of mind, including beliefs, desires and particularly emotions of others without injecting your own, often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes". Children are supposed to develop 'theory of the mind' at around four years of age.


history of theory of mind

There has also been speculation that certain humans fail to progress through the normal cognitive developmental stages that lead to acquisition of a theory of mind. In 1985 Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Frith published an article called "Does the autistic child have a theory of mind?" in which it was suggested that the human brain normally has a "theory of mind module" and that this particular component of the brain may not develop normally in some people. More recently, Dr Simon Baron-Cohen published a book called Mindblindness that explores this theory of mind.


difficulties with social interaction

By not understanding that other people think differently than themselves, individuals on the autism spectrum may have difficulties in social interactions with other people. They may not understand and become upset if someone does not know the answer to a question. They will have trouble anticipating what others will say or do in a variety of situations, and their difficulty in understanding that others have thoughts and emotions can make the autistic person appear self-centered, eccentric, or uncaring.


theory of mind and telling lies

Many autistic individuals have difficulties in lying. and theory of mind is proposed as a reason. Individuals with Autism may believe that others always know what they are thinking. While not pleasant for teachers or parents, the beginning of telling lies in a child can be positive in that it is a developmental milestone.


Social stories and theory of mind

A common strategy for dealing with these issues is using social stories to help individuals with Autism 'read' and understand social situations. Social stories are used to explain appropriate social behaviors. It was developed by Carol Gray and seeks to include answers to questions that autistic persons may need to know to interact appropriately with others (for example, answers to who, what, when, where, and why in social situations). The use of social stories can motivate children to question why others see the world in different ways.


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This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation. It is derivative of an Autism and Asperger's syndrome-related articles at http://en.wikipedia.org

"Theory of mind" is commonly linked with Autism Spectrum Disorders and refers to a specific cognitive capacity: the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own