Links between theory of mind and executive function in young children with autism: clues to developmental primacy

Elizabeth Pellicano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

There has been much theoretical discussion of a functional link between theory of mind (ToM) and executive function (EF) in autism. This study sought to establish the relationship between ToM and EF in young children with autism (M = 5 years, 6 months) and to examine issues of developmental primacy. Thirty children with autism and 40 typically developing children, matched on age and ability, were assessed on a battery of tasks measuring ToM (1st- and 2nd-order false belief) and components of EF (planning, set shifting, inhibition). A significant correlation emerged between ToM and EF variables in the autism group, independent of age and ability, while ToM and higher order planning ability remained significantly related in the comparison group. Examination of the pattern of ToM-EF impairments in the autism group revealed dissociations in 1 direction only: impaired ToM with intact EF. These findings support the view that EF may be 1 important factor in the advancement of ToM understanding in autism. The theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)974-990
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Volume43
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • autism
  • theory of mind
  • executive function
  • cognitive development

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