Abstract: Empirical Failures of the Claim That Autistic People Lack a Theory of Mind

GERNSBACHER, M. A., & YERGEAU, M. (2019). Empirical failures of the claim that autistic people lack a theory of mind. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 7, 102-118. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/arc0000067
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The claim that autistic people lack a theory of mind—that they fail to understand that other people have a mind or that they themselves have a mind—pervades psychology. This article (a) reviews empirical evidence that fails to support the claim that autistic people are uniquely impaired, much less that all autistic people are universally impaired, on theory-of-mind tasks; (b) highlights original findings that have failed to replicate; (c) documents multiple instances in which the various theory-of-mind tasks fail to relate to each other and fail to account for autistic traits, social interaction, and empathy; (c) summarizes a large body of data, collected by researchers working outside the theory-of-mind rubric, that fails to support assertions made by researchers working inside the theory-of-mind rubric; and (d) concludes that the claim that autistic people lack a theory of mind is empirically questionable and societally harmful.