Development and Psychopathology



Theory of mind and emotion-recognition functioning in autistic spectrum disorders and in psychiatric control and normal children


JAN K. BUITELAAR a1c1, MARLEEN VAN DER WEES a1, HANNA SWAAB–BARNEVELD a1 and RUTGER JAN VAN DER GAAG a1
a1 University of Utrecht

Abstract

The hypothesis was tested that weak theory of mind (ToM) and/or emotion recognition (ER) abilities are specific to subjects with autism. Differences in ToM and ER performance were examined between autistic (n = 20), pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) (n = 20), psychiatric control (n = 20), and normal children (n = 20). The clinical groups were matched person-to-person on age and verbal IQ. We used tasks for the matching and the context recognition of emotional expressions, and a set of first- and second-order ToM tasks. Autistic and PDD-NOS children could not be significantly differentiated from each other, nor could they be differentiated from the psychiatric controls with a diagnosis of ADHD (n = 9). The psychiatric controls with conduct disorder or dysthymia performed about as well as normal children. The variance in second-order ToM performance contributed most to differences between diagnostic groups.


Correspondence:
c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jan K. Buitelaar, Department of Child Psychiatry, P.O. Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands.