Children's understanding of misrepresentation.
The introduction provides a theoretical analysis of a conceptual link
between the ability to predict action based upon a false belief, and the
ability to describe the contents of a misrepresenting representational
artefact. This justifies an empirical comparison of these two abilities in
three and four year old normally developing children, and high
functioning children with autism (those having a Verbal Mental Age
greater than four years).
The first half of the empirical work describes the development and
investigation of two procedures that test non-mental misrepresentation
(false models and misleading direction signs). These are compared with
performance on established false belief tasks to examine both levels of
absolute difficulty, and developmental coincedence in task ability. It is
found that there is a strong relationship in normally developing children
between the ability to pass a false belief task, and to interpret the contents
of a misrepresenting artefact. This close relationship is not found in
children with autism, where tasks in the mental domain present greater
difficulty than, and are unrelated to, the tasks in the non-mental domain.
This suggests that the children with autism do not follow the same
conceptual developmental course as normal children.
Two subsequent experiments examine the abilities of children with
autism in understanding the appearance reality distinction. It is found that
this group and normally developing children are better at a colour
transformation task than a deceptive objects task. An existing suggestion
in the literature that children with autism produce a majority of
phenomentist errors was not replicated. Experiment 6 exploited children's
good performance on the colour transformation task in a new paradigm to
produce a genuinely misrepresenting photograph. This task was of equal
difficulty and highly correlated with false belief in the normally
developing group. For children with autism this task was easier than and
uncorrelated with false belief.
These findings are discussed in relation to existing theories of normal
development and the condition of autism.