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Title: Intuitive psychology and intuitive physics : a comparison of understanding between children on the autistic spectrum and typically developing children
Author: Binnie, Lynne M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2002
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This thesis considers how a disassociation among children with autism in cognitive functioning in the domains of psychology and physics might enhance our understanding of cognitive development in general. Cognition is assumed by many theorists to develop in a domain-specific fashion. This position holds that children's intuitive understanding is constructed differently according to the domain of knowledge. A literature review is reported which indicates that autism could indeed be a paradigm case for investigating this theoretical perspective. Study 1 investigated intuitive concepts of psychology, physics and biology by administering two tasks from each domain to 23 typically developing pre-schoolers, 20 children with autism and 18 children with Down syndrome. Results found that children with autism performed significantly below the other groups on the intuitive psychology tasks. However, performance within the domains of physics and biology did not significantly differ across groups. This disassociated understanding evidenced between the domains of psychology and physics/biology in children with autism strengthens the argument that cognition develops domain-specifically Study 2 focussed in greater detail on this disassociation by employing three tasks each comprising a psychological and physical condition to 21 children with autism and three groups of typically developing children: 21 matched according to chronological age [CA]; 17 pre-schoolers; 18 seven-year-olds and 17 ten-year-olds. In both conditions of a picture-sequencing task children with autism were more likely to choose a physical causal picture than a psychological one to complete the sequence. This finding indicates that children with autism may prefer to reason about causality in a purely physical way. In a categorisation task no group differences were identified in the psychological condition. However, in the physics condition, children with autism and ten-year-olds were more likely to categorise according to physical features than superficial features. In a multiple-choice task, children with autism performed poorer than all other typically developing groups in the psychology condition but better than all comparison groups except the ten-year-olds in the physics condition. This study not only confirms initial findings but also additionally demonstrates a superior ability to reason about physical phenomena in children with autism. The theoretical and practical implications of this potential cognitive strength are discussed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available