The 'Reading the Mind in the eyes' test revised version: A study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning autism - Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y. and Plumb, I. (2001)

Aims

The main aim of this experiment was to investigate if high functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome would be impaired on a theory of mind test called the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task.’ The researchers were also interested to find out if females would be better than males on the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task’

Research Method

Matched Pairs Design. This is a natural or quasi experiment.

Procedure

There were participants with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. The participants were divided into three groups. Group 1 consisted of sixteen participants with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. They were all of normal intelligence. There were 13 men and 3 women. Group 2 consisted of fifty age-matched controls (25 male and 25 female) with no history of psychiatric disorder and presumed to be of normal intelligence. Group 3 consisted of ten participants with Tourette syndrome. These participants were also age matched with groups 1 and 2. There were eight men and two women, mirroring the sex ratio of group 1. They were all of normal intelligence. The Eyes Task, the Strange Stories Task, and the two control tasks were presented in random order, to all participants and they were tested individually in a quiet room either in their own home, in a researcher’s clinic, or at a lab at the University. The Eyes Task comprises of photographs of the eye region of 25 different male and female faces. The photographs were taken from magazines and were standardized in that they were all black and white, all from the same region of the face (from midway along the nose to just above the eyebrow) and all of the same size. Each picture was shown for three seconds and participants were given a forced choice question between two mental states printed under each picture. The Experimenter says to the subject" Which word best describes what this person is feeling or thinking?" The maximum score on this test is 25.

Findings


  • As predicted high functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome did have more difficulties with the Eye Task than both ‘normal’ adults and adults with Tourette syndrome.

  • It was also found that ‘normal’ adult males had more difficulties with the Eye Task than ‘normal’ adult females.

  • Adults with autism or Asperger syndrome do have more difficulties with the Eye Task than both ‘normal’ adults and adults with Tourette syndrome.


  • Weaknesses


  • One of the weaknesses of the study is the ecological validity of the experiment. Some of the participants were tested at a lab in a University and this may have had an effect on performance. Probably more importantly the Eye Task test can be questioned as it is an unusual task which is much simpler than the demands of real live social situations

  • Ecological Validity


  • In this study there wasn’t much ecological validity because some of the participants were tested in a lab in a University. This isn’t something that people go through usually therefore this doesn’t have much ecological validity. Also it has low ecological validity because there are only static (non-moving) pictures of just eyes. It is also an abnormal thing for people to do.
  • Explanations


  • Self actuated movement is necessary in order to develop the normal visual perception with depth.

  • Our movement in the world gives the dimension of depth to mere visual sensations.

  • Movement is the key to understanding vision.

  • Overall the evidence is that some parts of perception are learned and some innate, and although it tends to be more complex ones that are learned, there is still no total certainty as to which are innate and which rely on experience.


  • Strengths


  • The main strength of this experiment is the control of variables. Variables were controlled such as intelligence, sex and developmental disorders. The researchers were able to ensure that the differences between the scores of the three groups of participants were something to do with being autistic.

  • Ethics


  • This study was ethical considering that everyone knew what was going on, they knew that they were in a study. Also they weren’t asked to do anything that would negatively affect them or anyone else. They study was pretty ethical.
  • Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y. and Plumb, I. (2001)


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