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Cognition and Development – Theory of Mind

4. Theory of Mind and Autism

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about how the condition of autism may impact the development of a theory of mind. We explore the research of Baron-Cohen et al. in this area, focussing in particular on the Sally-Anne Task (1985) and the Reading the Mind from the Eyes Task (1997). We think about their findings which suggest a link between autism and the lack of a theory of mind in children and adults. We also discuss the implications this has for considering autism as a cognitive rather than an affective condition.


In this course, Professor Peter Mitchell (University of Nottingham) discusses how we acquire a theory of mind, i.e. the ability to make inferences about the mental states of others. We begin, in module one, by exploring what we mean by the term ‘theory of mind’ and how it can be measured using a test of false belief. In module two, we discuss two rival theories of how we come to understand the thoughts and feelings of others before moving on, in module three, to think about whether a theory of mind is innate or developed over time. Modules four and five consider how our ability to understand the internal states of others may be influenced by the condition of autism and factors in our social environment, while module six explores how the development of a theory of mind varies across different cultures.


Peter Mitchell is Professor and Director of Studies in Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Previously, he was head of the School of Psychology on the University of Nottingham’s UK campus. He has published six books and is editor of the British Journal of Psychology. Professor Mitchell has served as Chair of the Developmental Section of the British Psychological Society and as Chief Examiner for the Economic and Social Research Council UK PhD studentship competition. Some of Professor Mitchell’s recent publications include ‘Autism and the double empathy problem: Implications for development and mental health’ (2020) and ‘Do neurotypical people like or dislike autistic people?’ (2021).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Mitchell, P. (2019, October 11). Cognition and Development – Theory of Mind - Theory of Mind and Autism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mitchell, P. "Cognition and Development – Theory of Mind – Theory of Mind and Autism." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Oct 2019,

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