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Mindblind Eyes: An Absence of Spontaneous Theory of Mind in Asperger Syndrome

Science  14 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5942, pp. 883-885
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176170

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Abstract

Adults with Asperger syndrome can understand mental states such as desires and beliefs (mentalizing) when explicitly prompted to do so, despite having impairments in social communication. We directly tested the hypothesis that such individuals nevertheless fail to mentalize spontaneously. To this end, we used an eye-tracking task that has revealed the spontaneous ability to mentalize in typically developing infants. We showed that, like infants, neurotypical adults’ (n = 17 participants) eye movements anticipated an actor’s behavior on the basis of her false belief. This was not the case for individuals with Asperger syndrome (n = 19). Thus, these individuals do not attribute mental states spontaneously, but they may be able to do so in explicit tasks through compensatory learning.

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