In of deception and thus fail at the

In light of the research
found on theory of mind, a wave of data was conducted on the relationship
between ASC and theory of mind. The theory of mind in a child diagnosed with
ASC, was of particular importance for researchers as it allowed for a further
understanding of the intact and impaired abilities found in the everyday life
of those diagnosed with ASC (Frith & Happe, 1999). The particular condition
of ASC is genetically based, and is ascribed to as a
deficiency in the neuro-cognitive mechanism of the brain which usually allows
for the development of “Theory of mind” (Frith & Happe, 1999). As a result of this
deficiency, a number of early emerging abnormalities arise in language,
symbolic play, and social interaction (Dawson & McKissick, 1984). In
attempts to assess and address the relationship between the deficiency of ToM
and the symptoms of ASC, Barhon-Cohen (1995) put forth the mindblindness
theory: this theory claims that children diagnosed with ASC may find that
the actions of people are confusing or unpredictable to them, because of a
delay in the development of their ToM that leaves them with an impaired set of
mechanisms for attributing and predicting the mental states to others.

This is exemplified in a
number of studies that have used different measures to evaluate this notion. For
example, a notable study by Leslie (1987), found that a striking feature found
in a child diagnosed with ASC is their lack of ability to pretend play due to
the inability to attribute the notion that others can pretend to be something
they are not, and therefore showing incapability of second-order
representations. These results, encouraged researchers to investigate if a
child diagnosed with ASC has an impaired ability to attribute false beliefs. Using
the Sally-Anne task, a study by Barhon-Cohen et al. (1985) found that some of those
with low functioning ASC have an impaired understanding of deception and thus
fail at the Sally-Anne task. Moreover, a study by Frith & Happe (1994)
looked into the neuro images of children with ASC conducting the tasks on false
belief, and found that the prefrontal cortex, an area which is normally
activated when using theory of mind, is inactive in those diagnosed with ASC.

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Notably, a main critique
found on the mindblindness theory points out the theory’s failure to address the
difficulties found in self-referential processing in those diagnosed with ASC
(). Limbardo & Barhon-Cohen (2010) argue that it is important to take into
account that impairments in the self-referential processing system in a person as
it may have a critical role in providing a fuller understanding of the symptoms
behind ASC. This in turn, may encourage researchers to allocate greater
attention on the deficits of theory of own mind, rather than just simply
focusing on the inability to attribute mental states to others.


In combination, much of the research found on theory of mind,
tends to allocate great attention on “reading the minds of others” while
neglecting focus on the critical role of attributing mental states to oneself
(Williams & Happe, 2009). As a response to the criticism and evidence found
on the mindblindness theory, a controversial question of
theoretical importance in the field of theory of mind was born. This question
looked to assess whether a lack of theory in mind in ASC essentially meant a
lack of self-awareness (Frith & Happe, 1999).  Self-awareness, can be generally defined as
the ability to be reflect upon your thoughts, perceptions, attention and physical
appearance knowing they are your own through a self-referential process (Huang
et al., 2017). As suggested by the “looking glass self” concept, the link
between theory of mind and self-awareness is vital because the ability to
understand other peoples’ beliefs and perceptions of you, has a substantial
impact on how one perceives themselves (Lombardo & Barhon-Cohen, 2010).

a variety of paradigms, the majority of literature on this topic has attempted
to investigate aspects of self-awareness that are diminished in ASC. This is
exemplified in a number of social, imaginative and communicative symptoms
displayed by those with ASC. An illustration of this is found in individuals
with ASC who fail to effectively use language as a tool to guide their own behavior
and regulate their emotions. This is attributed to their deficiency of inner
speech which usually allows for regulation of behavior (Solomon et al., 2011). Rubin
and Lennon (2004) suggest that this may result in ineffective social
communication and awkward situations which may stress the individual with ASC.
Additionally, Powell and Jordan (1993) characterize ASC by deficiency in
recalling and encoding personal episodic memories, they associate this to
self-awareness by explaining that that the lack of ability to encode personal
episodic memory impairs their ability to to reflect on personal experiences, as
well as the ability remember themselves performing an action or possessing
certain knowledge. As a consequence, this hinders the development of
experiencing the self and the skill of problem solving (Elmose, 2016).

can be concluded that, findings of such place emphasis on the importance of
accounting for the importance of self-awareness and its impact on theory of
mind in individuals with ASC in empirical studies.


The distinctive symptoms found in ASC in relation to self-awareness,
have therefore encouraged researchers to assume that individuals with autism
lack awareness of their own mind to the same extent that they lack awareness of
the minds of others (Frith & Happe, 1999; William & Happe, 2010). In
attempts to empirically demonstrate this notion, a significant study by Frith
& Happe (1999) was put forth. In their paper, Frith & Happe (1999)
claim that those with ASC lack introspective awareness, and can only comprehend
first-order representations of experiences but are unable to process
second-order representations to these experiences. They supported this claim by
providing examples of three prominent studies, first a study by Perner et al.,
(1989) explored the awareness of knowledge in children with ASC. This was done
by conducting a task where a confederate participant and an ASC participant
were shown boxes and informed that different objects were placed in them. Then,
the experimenter allowed one of the two participants to look into the box. The
participants were then asked a) whether they knew what was inside the box b)
whether the other participant knew what was inside the box.  Results of this study illustrate that
children with ASC provided answers indicating overestimated knowledge of both
themselves and the participants in regards to what was in the box.  Although this study was backed by Kazak et
al., (1997), it should be noted that results in the latter study were not
significant in comparison to the control group and thus cannot be seen as
strong enough evidence to support the notion that Frith & Happe (1991)
proposed (Williams, 2010). Moreover, another example used, looked at the
ability of an individual with ASC to recognize their own intentions. This was
tested by Phillips et al. (1998) using a rigged shooting game, in which
participants were asked to shot at an intended target. Results in this study
demonstrated that those with ASC were likely to report the hits as intentional
if they received a prize, and unintentional if they did not. This indicates
that those with ASC confuse their desires with their intentions and therefore
have a diminished self-awareness. Thereby, Frith & Happe used the evidence
presented as support for the conclusion that those with a lack of theory of
mind of others also lack a theory of their own mind.


Notably, Frith & Happe added onto these cognitive accounts on
lacking introspective awareness in individuals with ASC, by providing
autobiographical accounts of individuals with high functioning levels of ASC
known as Asperger’s syndrome, using an introspective sampling method by
Hulburt (1990). In this assessment, Frith and Happe (1999) asked three high
functioning adults with autism to report their thoughts and feelings every time
a device they provided beeped. In these reports, Frith and Happe (1999) found
that out of the three, those who did well on the advanced false belief tasks
were able to report their thought process effectively and the one who did the
poorest, was the least able to report his thought process. Moreover, using
these reports Frith and Happe (1999) saw that the three individuals with high
functioning levels of autism mainly described their thoughts and feelings
through visual images, this is suggested to be a consequence of the lack of
ability to produce inner speech (Lind & Bowler, 2009).


Additionally, in response to the paper presented by Frith &
Happe (1999), numerous studies have attempted to develop their notion by
measuring different dimensions of psychological self-awareness. A
neuro-cognitive study on ASC and self-awareness put forth, findings that
demonstrate the inability of individuals with ASC to place symbolic
representation of themselves, which is evident in a range of studies which find
that those with ASC usually refer to themselves in third person. This provides
evidence supporting the notion that those with ASC may lack self-awareness
because language is essential for creating a clear identity for self and others
(Lyons & Fitzgerald, 2013).



Although the study by Frith and Happe (1999) was highly
influential in generating research on this topic, a few psychologists have
criticized the measures used and the statements proposed in this paper.  To begin with, the use of autobiographical
accounts in Frith & Happe(1999) in order to prove lack of self-awareness
was highly controversial, a number of researchers argued that accounts of such
show rather the opposite (Williams, 2010). A study by Mcgreer(2004) challenges
their paper by suggesting that the ability to provide such vivid sensory
experiences of their experiences by ASC individuals must in some sense suggest
that these individuals must have some sort of awareness of their own mental
state in order to be able describe such thoughts and feelings even if at the
time they are unable to attribute beliefs to others effectively. This notion
was refuted by Bruck et al. (2007) who claims that autobiographical accounts
are not in any way reliable as they can easily be confabulated. Especially due
to the lack of personal episodic memory found in individuals with ASC (Huang et
al., 2017). This is evident in an experiment by Bruck et al (2007) who found
that those with autism were more likely to give detailed reports that are false
about a staged event given by experimenter.

Furthermore, another criticism that the article by Frith and Happe
(1999) received was from Raffman (1999) who challenges the notion that those
with ASC lack a sense of self –awareness. Rather, Raffman (1999) argues that
these difficulties can be seen as deficits in the ability to represent and
discuss mental states rather than an inability to be aware of these states.
This notion found further support in a meta-analysis conducted by Huang et al
(2017) who found that a multitude of articles have a consensus following the
notion that in specific, those with high functioning levels of ASC are aware of
their social deficits but are simply unable to address them.


The most significant issue that a multitude of papers looking into
self-awareness and ASC face is, the lack of distinction between psychological
self-awareness and physical self-awareness. In specific, Williams (2010) argues
that although it can be said that psychological self-awareness is dependent on
meta-representations and involves the same cognitive mechanisms used in theory
of mind, such representations are not necessary for physical self-awareness and
thus it can be argued that those individuals with ASC are self-aware to some
extent. This notion on physical self-awareness in ASC has been investigated in
a few studies, one study by Spiker and Ricks (1984) looked at the ability of
individuals with ASC to recognize their own physical body. This was assessed
using a common test of bodily self-awareness known as the mirror
self-recognition task, in this assessment the experimenter placed a pigmented
color on of the participant discreetly and examined their reactions. Despite
Lewis (2003), suggesting that awareness of ones’ own body is a meta-representation
rather than a first-order representation, the findings indicate that
recognition of own body, is actually intact with ASC individuals with an
average of 74% of ASC participants being able to recognize themselves in the
mirror. One argument that is necessary to point out is that although
individuals with ASC did not show any impairments in their ability to recognize
their selves, a study by Dawson & McKissick (1984) does provide evidence
suggesting that those with ASC did not show any sense of coyness or
self-consciousness when looking at the mirror, and individuals with ASC also
communicated less and tended to touch their own bodies frequently. Thus, it can
be implied that expression of coyness or self-consciousness requires the
ability to attribute mental states to self, and that even when physical
awareness is intact, psychological awareness can be present (Dawson &
McKissick, 1984).

As an extension to this notion, a study by Lind & Bowler (2009)
looked at delayed recognition.  In this
study, the experimenter attempted to examine how aware an individual with ASC
was of their own place and continued existence through time. This was done by
discreetly placing a sticker on the participants head, this is filmed and then
replayed to the participant. Lind and Bowler (2009) predicted that those who
have temporally extended self-awareness would recognize that the sticker still
remains on their forehead “here-and-now” and not only “there-and-then”.  Findings on this study, further prove that
those with ASC do have physical self-awareness as the majority of them
recognized that the sticker was still on their forehead.


Lastly, in attempt to look at an additional dimension of physical
self-awareness, an experiment by Russel and Hill (2001) was presented with aims
to look at the awareness of individuals with ASC in tracking their own actions.
This relates to the capabilities of recognizing the difference between
world-caused and self-caused changes. An assessment of this was done by looking
at whether individuals with ASC were aware of which square on the computer
screen was under their control. Notably, the paper by Russel and Hill was
criticized for its weak methodology, thus Williams and Happe (2009) carried out
a similar study and found that those with autism showed almost identical
abilities of typically developing children in their performance. In fact, it
was suggested that those with ASC actually have better use of their motor
feedback as opposed to visual feedback in comparison to typically developing

Therefore, it can be summarized, that although those with ASC show
difficulty in reflecting on their own knowledge, intentions and language, they
usually have an intact self-awareness in dimensions such as self-recognition,
delayed self-recognition and in monitoring their actions. It is important to
note that, the reason behind the intact self-awareness in physical dimensions
are only intact because they do not require meta-representations and thus are
unlikely to affect those with ASC.


In conclusion, this paper has attempted to examine the importance
of theory of mind and its relationship with ASC and self-awareness. The
literature in this field has indicated that the lack of ability to attribute
mental state to others, results in the failure to attribute mental states to
ones’ self, in specific using ASC as a model, a number of studies have argued
that due to the distinctive symptoms of the lack of self-awareness found in ASC,
that it is an exemplary model that can be used to understand and aid those with
ASC. Moreover, a prominent study by Frith and Happe (1999) on this topic,
provided insight on autobiographical accounts of three individuals with
Asperger’s syndrome and also put forth the idea that the failure in
self-awareness is caused by the same underlying cognitive mechanism that is
used for theory of mind.  A multitude of
research has provided findings that both support and refute the proposal made
by Frith & Happe (1999).

The literature found on the Autism spectrum condition and
self-awareness indicates that the extent to which an individual with ASC can be
considered to lack self-awareness is dependent on the dimension of
self-awareness being measured. Most of the literature on this topic, does
suggest that psychological self-awareness in ASC seems to be severely impaired
due to a deficit in the underlying mechanism that is also responsible for
theory of mind. However, other studies have successfully pointed out the importance
of looking at physical self-awareness, because the empirical evidence found on
this dimension of self-awareness suggests that those with ASC have an intact
sense of physical self-awareness of their own agency and body. Moreover, a
number of studies have suggested that those who are diagnosed with Asperger’s
syndrome, have shown to have awareness of their social deficits, but are simply
unable to reflect on them. Thus, it can be said that individuals with ASC have
an impaired psychological self-awareness to a great extent, in comparison to
physical awareness which seems to remarkably be intact. Such findings allow for
the development of peoples understanding on what ASC is and how it should be










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