Belief-Attribution in Adults with and without Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Elisabeth Bradford, Vera Hukker, Laura Smith, Heather Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)
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An important aspect of daily life is the ability to infer information about the contents of other people's minds, such as what they can see and what they know, in order to engage in successful interactions. This is referred to as possession of a “Theory of Mind” (ToM). Past research has shown that adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often show deficits in social communication abilities, although can successfully pass tests of explicit ToM. The current study utilized a computerized false-belief task to explore subtle differences (i.e., measuring response times and accuracy rates) in how efficiently ToM capacities—specifically, belief-attribution—are utilized in adults with and without ASD. In the task, participants were asked to attribute a belief-state to either themselves or another person, following establishment of a true or false-belief scenario. Results revealed comparable patterns of ToM engagement across individuals with and without ASD, with faster and more accurate responses to “Self” versus “Other” oriented questions, and slower response times when shifting between the “Self” and “Other” perspective compared to when maintaining a perspective. However, autistic individuals showed a particular deficit in correctly identifying a belief-state in false-belief trials, in which two contrasting belief-states had to be held in mind, suggesting more difficulty disengaging from current, reality based belief-states than neuro-typical individuals. Autism Res 2018, 11: 1542–1553.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1542-1553
Number of pages12
JournalAutism Research
Issue number11
Early online date21 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • autistic spectrum disorders
  • belief-attribution
  • false-belief
  • perspective-taking
  • theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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