Theory of Mind and Self-Consciousness: What Is It Like to Be Autistic?
Article first published online: 17 DEC 2002
Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999
Mind & Language
Volume 14, Issue 1, pages 82–89, March 1999
How to Cite
Frith, U. and Happé, F. (1999), Theory of Mind and Self-Consciousness: What Is It Like to Be Autistic?. Mind & Language, 14: 82–89. doi: 10.1111/1468-0017.00100
- Issue published online: 17 DEC 2002
- Article first published online: 17 DEC 2002
- Cited By
Autism provides a model for exploring the nature of self-consciousness: self-consciousness requires the ability to reflect on mental states, and autism is a disorder with a specific impairment in the neurocognitive mechanism underlying this ability. Experimental studies of normal and abnormal development suggest that the abilities to attribute mental states to self and to others are closely related. Thus inability to pass standard ‘theory of mind’ tests, which refer to others’ false beliefs, may imply lack of self-consciousness. Individuals who persistently fail these tests may, in the extreme, be unable to reflect on their intentions or to anticipate their own actions. In contrast, individuals with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome often possess a late-acquired, explicit theory of mind, which appears to be the result of effortful learning. An experimental study with three people with Asperger syndrome suggested that level of performance on standard theory of mind tasks was strongly related to the ability to engage in introspection. Qualitative differences in the introspections of high-functioning people with autism are also reflected in autobiographical accounts which may give a glimpse of what it is like to be autistic.