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Episodic memory, "theory of mind" and temporally extended self-awareness in autism spectrum disorder

Lind, S. E. (2007). Episodic memory, "theory of mind" and temporally extended self-awareness in autism spectrum disorder. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The primary aim of this thesis was to establish the cause(s) of the diminution of episodic memory that is evident amongst individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The main hypothesis was that impaired “theory of mind” (ToM) and temporally extended self-awareness are precursors to this diminution. An additional aim was to consider whether some individuals with ASD use their linguistic knowledge of complement syntax as a compensatory, non-ToM strategy to pass false belief tasks. A sample of 93 children/adolescents with ASD and 69 comparison children/adolescents without ASD was tested on a battery of tasks aimed at assessing the cognitive functions of interest. Episodic memory was assessed using a self-other source memory task and ToM was assessed using location change and unexpected contents false belief tasks as well as a see-know task. Temporally extended self- awareness was assessed using the delayed self-recognition paradigm and, finally, complement syntax was assessed using a memory for complements task. The data were presented as a series of experiments each aimed at addressing a specific research question. The results indicated that episodic memory, as indexed by self-other source memory, was subtly impaired in children/adolescents with ASD. Semantic memory, as indexed by A' (item discrimination), was attenuated in children/adolescents with low-functioning, but not high-functioning, ASD. Individuals with ASD demonstrated the enactment effect (superior memory for self-performed, rather than other- performed, actions) to the same extent as those without ASD. Participants with ASD were significantly less likely than comparison participants to pass the delayed self-recognition task and, even when passing, required more prompting than comparison participants who passed. This suggests individuals with ASD have impaired temporally extended self-awareness. Lexical knowledge, but not complement syntax, was related to false belief task performance, irrespective of diagnostic status. These findings thus speak against the hypothesis that individuals with ASD use linguistic strategies to “hack-out” solutions to false belief tasks. Finally, metarepresentational ability, assessed with the Smarties false belief task, was related to episodic (source) memory, particularly source memory for other-performed actions. It was concluded that ToM difficulties contribute to the episodic memory difficulties experienced by individuals with ASD.

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 Lind thesis 2007 PDF-A.pdf]
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