Autism is a childhood developmental condition characterized by social difficulties, narrow interests, and resistance to change. It is diagnosed in childhood, but lasts for life. Simon Baron-Cohen is one of the world's leading autism experts.
Context and Aim (02:17)
Baron-Cohen says autistic children lack a theory of mind, or empathy. The Sally-Anne test is described. The test showed that autistic 4-year-olds could not separate their own knowledge from another's. Their ability to do this was delayed by five years.
Baron-Cohen's study set out to find out to what extent high-functioning autistic adults are deficient in their theory of mind. He devised a test of people's ability to use the emotional expressions around people's eyes to infer their feelings.
Research Design: Autism/Asperger's
Baron-Cohen's 1997 study tested subjects' ability to judge another person's mental state. There were two control groups. In this experiment, the independent variable was the diagnosis; the dependent variable was the test score out of 25.
Happes Strange Stories (01:04)
This is a test of social understanding to see if participants can identify non-literal meaning such as irony. Researchers wanted to validate their new Eyes Test against this already-validated test. They were looking for correlation between the two tests.
Two Control Tests:
Basic Emotional Recognition (01:15)
First, participants were tested on their ability to recognize gender just by looking at the eyes. Second, they were tested on their ability to recognize the six basic emotions when looking at the whole face.
Sex Differences (00:41)
Researchers also wanted to test for the possibility of sex differences in emotional recognition in the general population. This testing involved only the typical control group, which consisted of 25 males and 25 females.
Findings and Explanation (02:11)
Baron-Cohen's first prediction was confirmed by the subtle theory of mind testing. The autistic/Asperger's group scored lower than the two control groups on the Eyes Test. Autistic people focus on the mouth rather than the eyes.
Gender and Emotional Recognition (02:05)
Baron-Cohen found that control-group females did better than males on the Eyes Test. This led him to hypothesize a link between autism and the male brain on two dimensions: empathy and systemizing. The similarity holds for autistic females as well.
Validity of Eyes Test?
Criticisms of the Eyes Test are addressed. As for its validity, the strange stories test yields similar results. Baron-Cohen notes that in the real world judging others' emotions is even more difficult. Diagnosis can help people, rather than stigmatize.
Implications and Applications (01:19)
Theory of mind research can help us understand autism's causes within the brain. The fetal testosterone project tests the hyper-masculinity theory, revealing a correlation between fetal testosterone and autism symptoms.
Practical Help (02:02)
Educational software teaches empathy. "Mind Reading" helps autistic people learn the names of emotional expressions. "The Transporters," a cartoon for younger children, features vehicle characters that express emotions on their faces.
Positive Aspects of Autism (01:39)
Baron-Cohen points to the contributions autistic people can make. Their single-minded focus can make them experts on a topic. Some Cambridge math students are on the autism spectrum.
Closing Comments (00:20)
This brief summary addresses advances in understanding of autism.
Credits: Baron-Cohen: Autism—Core Studies in Psychology (00:23)
Credits: Baron-Cohen: Autism—Core Studies in Psychology
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