Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.
Research review: Goals, intentions and mental states: challenges for theories of autism
Article first published online: 5 JUN 2009
© 2009 The Author. Journal compilation © 2009 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Volume 50, Issue 8, pages 881–892, August 2009
How to Cite
Hamilton, A. F. d. C. (2009), Research review: Goals, intentions and mental states: challenges for theories of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50: 881–892. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02098.x
- Issue published online: 16 JUL 2009
- Article first published online: 5 JUN 2009
- Manuscript accepted 12 February 2009
- Autistic disorder;
- brain imaging;
- theory of mind
The ability to understand the goals and intentions behind other people’s actions is central to many social interactions. Given the profound social difficulties seen in autism, we might expect goal understanding to be impaired in these individuals. Two influential theories, the ‘broken mirror’ theory and the mentalising theory, can both predict this result. However, a review of the current data provides little empirical support for goal understanding difficulties; several studies demonstrate normal performance by autistic children on tasks requiring the understanding of goals or intentions. I suggest that this conclusion forces us to reject the basic broken mirror theory and to re-evaluate the breadth of the mentalising theory. More subtle theories which distinguish between different types of mirroring and different types of mentalising may be able to account for the present data, and further research is required to test and refine these theories.