Thought-bubbles Help Children with Autism Acquire an Alternative to a Theory of Mind

Henry M Wellman, Simon Baron-Cohen, Robert Caswell, Juan-Carlos Gomez, John Swettenham, Eleanor Toye, Kristin Lagattuta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Children with autism have specific difficulties understanding complex mental states like thought, belief, and false belief and their effects on behaviour. Such children benefit from focused teaching, where beliefs are likened to photographs-in-the-head. Here two studies, one with seven participants and one with 10, tested a picture-in-the-head strategy for dealing with thoughts and behaviour by teaching children with autism about cartoon thought-bubbles as a device for representing such mental states. This prosthetic device led children with autism to pass not only false belief tests, but also related theory of mind tests. These results confirm earlier findings of the efficacy of picture-in-the-head teaching about mental states, but go further in showing that thought-bubble training more easily extends to children's understanding of thoughts (not just behaviour) and to enhanced performance on several transfer tasks. Thought-bubbles provide a theoretically interesting as well as an especially easy and effective teaching technique.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-363
Number of pages21
JournalAutism
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002

Keywords

  • false belief
  • mental states
  • pictures-in-the-head
  • theory of mind
  • thought-bubbles
  • TEACHING THEORY
  • FALSE BELIEF
  • DEFICIT
  • INDIVIDUALS
  • DECEPTION

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