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Arbitrariness, attention and memory: An investigation into alternative explanations for false belief failure in autism

Holland, P. A. (2005). Arbitrariness, attention and memory: An investigation into alternative explanations for false belief failure in autism. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


False belief failure is often cited as evidence for a theory of mind-deficit in autism. It is possible to argue though that false belief failure by individuals with autism can be attributed to something other than an inability to understand the minds of other people. Research conducted within this thesis supports this argument in that a non-mental state, purely mechanical analogue of the traditional false belief test was successfully constructed. This allowed for a solid beginning to further explore false belief failure from a non-mental state perspective. Three main areas were explored - arbitrariness, attention and memory.

Investigations into the arbitrariness of false belief tests allowed suggestions that greatly reducing arbitrariness tends to result in improved false belief performance of children with autism. However, typically developing children also showed improvements, thus ruling out arbitrariness as a possible autism-specific explanation for false belief failure.

Attentional requirements of false belief tests were also investigated. It was hypothesised that as the distance between false belief stimuli increased, that, due to the need for added attentional orienting, poorer performance would result for the children with autism. Alterations of distance between false belief stimuli had no effect upon the false belief performance of either children with autism or typically developing children.

Finally, from a memory perspective, false belief tests, where cues were provided to participants, were compared to identical tests but where no cues were given. The cues were either auditory, visual or a combination of the two. Control participants demonstrated no cue effects, whereas for the children with autism, when combined visual and auditory cues were provided, false belief performance improved significantly. These findings are discussed in terms of specific difficulties that individuals with autism have with the encoding and retrieval of information from memory. In addition a new hypothesis to explain false belief failure in autism, as well as autism in general, is provided.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Holland thesis 2005 PDF-A.pdf]
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