Objectives: To investigate the processes by which children with ASD solve false belief tasks.
Methods: Participants are school-age boys with and without ASD matched using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–Fourth Edition (Dunn & Dunn, 2007). Data collection is ongoing—we have full datasets from 15 children with ASD thus far.
Brain activity. Resting EEG alpha activity is measured using a 128-channel Geodesic Sensor Net while participants fixate on a still picture.
Theory of mind. Theory of mind is assessed using two false belief tasks: contents change (Gopnik & Astington, 1988) and location change (Wimmer & Perner, 1983).
Executive functioning. It is important to statistically control for executive functioning as performance on response-conflict executive functioning tasks seems to be associated with theory of mind development (Perner et al., 2002). The executive functioning battery includes the grass-snow stroop (Carlson & Moses, 2001), bear-dragon (Reed et al., 1984), dimensional-change card sort (Zelazo, 2006), and less is more (Carlson et al., 2005) tasks.
Results: Preliminary results are based on 12 high-functioning boys with ASD. Performance on false belief tasks was significantly related to EEG alpha activity localized to the cingulate cortex, precentral gyrus, and precuneous. Furthermore, the executive functioning battery was associated with false belief tasks, r(10) = .713, p< .01.
Conclusions: Development of areas typically related to executive functioning in typically developing children appear to play an important role in false belief task performance in children with ASD. Our preliminary findings support the hypothesis that children with ASD differ from typically developing children in the way they solve false belief tasks (i.e., rule-following rather than intuitive understanding).