Psychology / Baron-Cohen'S Study(Got An &Quot;A&Quot;)

Baron-Cohen'S Study(Got An &Quot;A&Quot;)

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Autor:  anton  31 October 2010
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4. Psychological research is often carried out on a restricted sample of participants. For example, some studies use children, others use students etc. With reference to Tajfel, Baron-Cohen or Loftus, answer the following questions.

a. Outline the main findings of your chosen study. (6 marks)

The study under review in the following paragraphs is Baron-Cohen’s: “Does an autistic child have a theory of mind”? study which was conducted in 1985 with the aim of demonstrating that the core deficit underlying autism is the autistic child’s inability to employ a ‘theory of mind’. Researchers hold the belief that individuals with autism are “mind-blind” and thus, incapable of engaging in human interactions. It is argued that a child develops a ‘theory of mind’ between ages 4 and 6, although some evidence has demonstrated that children as young as 2 years have a ‘theory of mind’. Possessing a ‘theory of mind’ is the ability to understand that other persons possess independent minds of their own. The development of a theory of mind enables a child to begin to interpret other persons and to predict what other people are likely to do and believe. It is the ability to think about other people’s or one’s own thoughts. Baron-Cohen holds the argument that autistic persons do not seem to develop a theory of mind.

In order to instigate his study, Baron-Cohen(1985) embarked on a mission to demonstrate differences in mind-reading ability between autistic children, Down’s syndrome children and ordinary children. Children observed a scenario involving two puppet dolls: Sally and Ann who were on the desk. The children were tested consecutively. Sally had a basket infront of her and Ann had a box. The dolls were then introduced to the children (for example, ‘this is Sally’). After the introduction of the dolls, the child’s ability to name them was evaluated (the ‘Naming Question’).

Afterwards, Sally takes the marble and hides it in her basket. She then exits the room and ‘goes for a walk’. While away ‘on her walk’, Ann takes the marble out of Sally’s basket and puts in her own box. When Sally returns, the child is asked the significant question: ‘Where will Sally look for her marble?’(the ‘Belief Question’). The right answer is to point to or to name Sally’s basket in order to indicate that the child knows that Sally believes the marble to be somewhere where it is not. The wrong response is to point to Ann’s Box.

Two control questions were also asked: ‘Where is the marble really?’(the ‘Reality Question’) and ‘Where was the marble in the beginning?’ (the ‘Memory Question’)

Each child was evaluated twice. During the second time, the marble changes its location to the experimenter’s pocket. Once again, the autistic children pointed to where the marble really was. For the children to be successful, they have to attribute that Sally possesses beliefs about the world which can differ from their own beliefs and which happen in this case not to be true.

The percentages (%) of correct responses relating to the four ‘Sally-Ann’ questions are shown below:

Percentage of Correct Answers

Question Autistic Down’s Syndrome Normal

Naming 100 100 100

Reality 100 100 100

Memory 100 100 100

Belief 20 86 85

It can be derived that:

The ‘naming’, ‘reality’ and ‘memory’ questions were answered correctly by all the children.

The ‘belief question’ was answered correctly by 20% (4 out of 20) of the autistic children, by 86% of the Down’s Syndrome children and 85% of the ‘normal’ children.

The 16 autistic children who gave the wrong response on both trials pointed to where the marble really was rather than to where Sally must believe it to be.

The differences between the groups was statistically different.

The results support the hypothesis that children with autism, as a group, fail to employ a ‘theory of mind’ or have under-developed ‘theories of mind’. As an autistic child cannot appreciate that Sally has beliefs different either from his or her own beliefs (or if we do not want to say the child even has a concept of his/her own beliefs per se, then the way the child thinks the world is), i.e. that the marble is where the child knows it is. When asked where Sally will look for the marble, the child will say that Sally will look where the marble is. This ‘absence of theory of mind’ could have several meanings. Maybe the child has some understanding of beliefs but a wrong understanding. For instance, maybe he/she thinks everyone else’s beliefs are the same as hers or maybe she thinks that beliefs necessarily match reality (in other words, if Mary believes B, then B is always true).

Another possibility is what Fodor (1992) discusses. Maybe an autistic (or 3 year old) child has a comprehension of beliefs and even of false beliefs but her theory is of such a nature that she makes the wrong predictions in cases of false beliefs. If her theory states that regardless of people’s beliefs, they should act in such a way that fulfills their desires as long as there is only one action that is in accordance with this fulfillment, then in this case, Sally should look for the marble where it is located if she wants to find it. In fact, when the subject is confronted with an ambiguous situation where it is not known where the marble is, but it is known where Sally/puppet/actor believes the marble is, then the correct answer is given (Sally will look for something where she believes it is). These results are found with normal 3 year olds who fail false belief tests. So in these cases, there is not a single course of action that Sally should pursue to fulfill her desire, so the child does take into account Sally’s beliefs.

Yet another possibility is that children at times, do not interpret the questions they are asked in such an experiment correctly. Adult speakers know that the question asked: “Where will Sally look for the marble?” means “Where will Sally look for the marble FIRST?” not “Where will Sally look for the marble at some point/eventually/in order to be able to find the marble?” It is possible that subjects who fail testes like these have a ‘theory of mind’, but do not have the same grasp of the practical issues of the question that adults do.

It seems that in autistics, it is not just a theory about other people’s beliefs that is missing/dysfunctional, but also a theory about one’s own beliefs and mental functions. That is, they have problems conceptualizing their own past thoughts, the differences between mental entities and physical entities, the mental functions of the brain and possible differences between appearance and reality.

Another significant finding that is noteworthy is some of the normal children failed the belief question. Why was this? There is variation, in any psychological study, in the results and the need arises for researchers to look at the overall behavioural patterns of a group to formulate conclusions. About 15% of the normal children in the study failed. The mean age of this group is 4 years 5 months, but the range is from 3 years 5 months to 5 years 9months. Because it seems that most normal children pass the ‘Sally-Ann’ test by about age 4, there is the expectation that there might still be some normal children who do not have the same ‘theory of mind abilities’ in a group with a mean age of about 4 Ѕ.

b. Describe the sample of your chose study. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using restricted samples of participants in psychological studies?(8 marks)

Description of Baron-Cohen’s sample

In order to conduct his study. Baron-Cohen used three groups of children as participants:

20 autistic children with a mean Chronological Age (CA) of 11;11 (11 years, 11 months) and a mean Verbal Mental Age(vMA) of 5;5 with a mean IQ of 82(derived from non verbal MA[Mental Age] mostly in the average borderline range, i.e. 70 to 108, with only one subject scoring less than 70);

14 Down’s syndrome children with a mean CA of 10;11 and a mean vMA of 2;11 with an IQ range of 42 to 89 and an average of 64;

27 ‘normal children’ with a CA of 4;5 (who were under the assumption to have vMA’s equivalent to their CA).

Hence, a total of 61 children participated in the study.

The Down’s syndrome children were used as a control for intelligence. It might be argued that the autistic children were unable to pass the Sally-Ann test because they were of low intelligence. The down’s syndrome children possess a lower mean intelligence than the autistic sample’s mean; so if the Down’s syndrome children are able to pass the Sally-Ann test and the autistic children cannot, then the inability to pass the Sally-Ann test cannot be owing to the autistic children’s level of intelligence. The ‘normal children’ are a control for the effects of maturation. It could be argued that the autistic children were not able to pass the test because they were not mature enough. If four year olds(note, with a lower mental age than the autistic children) can pass the test and eleven year old autistic children cannot, the failure to get the Sally-Ann test correct cannot be due to the autistic children’s level of maturity.

Why did Baron-Cohen choose autistics with at least average IQs (even though most, 75%, of the autistic population is diagnosed as mentally retarded also)? The answer to this question is that the experiment wanted to show that it is not just a deficit in intelligence that causes autistics to behave in a certain way in this experiment but some social deficit related specifically to autism. By utilizing only autistics with average intelligence, they can demonstrate that the problem is independent of mental retardation. By using Down’s syndrome i.e. children with general mental retardation, they can further establish this independence.

The use of restricted samples in baron-Cohen’s study

In Baron-Cohen’s study it is evident that he used a restricted sample. Hence, 20 autistic children with a mean CA of 11;11 and with a vMA of 5;5 were chosen; 14 Down’s syndrome children with a mean CA of 10;11 and a mean vMA of 2;11 were chosen and 27 normal children with a CA of 4;5 were chosen. Thus, the population of the study was lucidly specified and defined.

Advantages of restricted sampling in psychological studies

Using restricted sampling is very advantageous:

When it is important that characteristics/subcategories/strata of a target population be investigated, restricted sampling is most useful. Restricted sampling gives the researcher a truly representative sample of his/her target population on the basis of those characteristics he/she wants to investigate. For example, in Baron-Cohen’s study restricted sampling was used and this was depicted when he selected high functioning autistic children instead of low functioning ones. He also chose autistic, Down’s syndrome and normal children based on special criteria such as their age range and IQ range(he chose autistics with average IQ ranges-the autistic group was of a relatively mean IQ of 82, Down’s syndrome children with a lower range of 42-89 and an average of 64 and for the normal children, their MA would roughly correspond to their CA). He chose autistics with an age of 11 years 11 months, Down’s syndrome children with an age of 10 years 11 months and normal children with an age of 4 years 5 months. Hence, these specific choices in determining his study population, enabled him to investigate special problems related to the general population.

Another advantage of restricted sampling in psychological research is that it allows comparison of results based on the stratifying variable(s) and it may yield higher precision in estimates of characteristics of the whole population. It allows the researcher to control the variables that are seen as important. For example in the Baron-Cohen study, the results obtained from the various types of children (divided according to whether they were autistic, of a Down’s syndrome nature or of a normal nature) were compared with each other so as to gain accurate findings. Hence, the use of the Down’s syndrome children as a control for intelligence and the normal children as a control for maturation i.e. these control mechanisms put in place, thus, enabled the facilitation of comparison among the results gained by each group, therefore, providing a higher precision of results.

Another advantage of restricted sampling is that suitable numbers of subjects can be drawn from respective groups in proportion to the percentage of the population as a whole. Hence, the population can be divided into groups of desired sizes by the researcher. An example of this can be seen when Baron-Cohen selected different quantities of children from different groups to partake in his study.

Since the researcher has the capabilities to divide his groups in the population to create a restricted sample, this could benefit him in terms of reduced cost. It is obviously less costly to obtain data from a selected subset of a population, rather than the entire population. Hence, Baron-Cohen chose selective subsets of the population: autistic children, Down’s syndrome children and normal children.

Disadvantages of restricted sampling in psychological studies

There are several disadvantages of restricted sampling in psychological studies.

Restricted sampling is time consuming because the characteristics in the target population have to be identified, and a calculation of their ratio of occurrence worked out. This is to ensure the correct ratios in the restricted sample. For example, in Baron-Cohen’s study, the ratio of autistic to Down’s syndrome to normal children used was 20:14:27.

The results gained from restricted sampling may be too generalisible:

For example, in the Baron-Cohen study, children were used. Hence, the results gained are generaliseable to children and not to adults and adolescents since one cannot conclude for sure if adults and adolescents would have reacted the same way as the children in the Sally-Ann test.

The results gained from restricted samples in psychological studies may not generalise to people of other cultures, for example, in Baron-Cohen’s study, only American children were used. Hence, the sample used was ethnocentric.

Also, the restricted sample used may hinder generalisability as it may be too small. For instance, in Baron-Cohen’s study, the sample consisted of 61 subjects which was relatively small, also raising the possibility of unrepresentativeness and, therefore, lack of generalisability.

c. Suggest a different sample for your chosen study and say what effect, if any, this might have on the results. (6 marks)

Another sample that can be used for Baron-Cohen’s study is a group of children between the ages of 3 to 5 years of age, a period considered to be critical for the development of a theory of mind. The participants will consist of 11 children with PPDNOS(Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified- a 'sub-threshold' condition in which some - but not all - features of autism or another explicitly identified Pervasive Developmental Disorder are identified. PDD-NOS is often incorrectly referred to as simply "PDD." The term PDD refers to the class of conditions to which autism belongs. PDD is NOT itself a diagnosis, while PDD-NOS IS a diagnosis. The term Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified [PDD-NOS] is also referred to as "atypical personality development," "atypical PDD," or "atypical autism”), 23 normally developing children for cross sectional comparison and 13 normally developing children for longitudinal comparison. The groups will be comparable in verbal and non verbal mental age.

In comparison, a similar sample was used by Serra, Loth, van Geerth, Hurkens and Minderaa(2002), employed in a longitudinal study that investigated the development of theory of mind knowledge in children with ‘lesser variants’ of autism (PPDNOS) over a period considered to be crucial for theory of mind development,3 to 5 years of age. In this study, two storybooks containing identical tasks but different characters were utilized to investigate various aspects of children’s theory of mind. The results revealed that the children with PPDNOS possessed specific difficulties in understanding their ability to predict other people’s emotions on the basis of situational cues, desires and beliefs. In comparison, with the normally developing children, these children achieved lower levels of theory of mind knowledge, both at the time of initial assessment and six months later.

Serra et al. (2002) made a conclusion that the data suggests theory of mind development in children with PDDNOS is both delayed and unexpected. The patterns of growth of theory of mind skills in children with PDDNOS seemed, according to Serra et al. to be qualitatively different from the growth pattern found in the group of normally developing children.

Hence, if the sample used in the study conducted by Serra et al. was used in Baron-Cohen’s study, the results gained would have still been synonymous with regard to the original study sample of 61 children used in Baron-Cohen’s study, as both studies reveal that autistic children have under-developed ‘theories of minds’ since their findings of both studies support this.

The results would have still been the same if both samples(Baron-Cohen’s original sample of 61 children and the sample of 47 children used by Serra et al.) were used as Holroyd and Baron-Cohen(1993) conducted a longitudinal study with a 7 to 8 year follow up period. The aim of their study was to determine how much of a theory of mind an autistic individual develops. The results based on 17 autistic participants revealed that the majority of people with autism, 60%-70%, had little development of theory of mind. The minority, 20%-30%, development of their theory of mind, was thought to possibly extend to the equivalent of a 3 to 4 year old level by the teenage years. (Holroyd and Baron-Cohen).

The same results would have been obtained if the sample used in the study conducted by Serra et al. was used instead of the sample used by Baron-Cohen in his study, as the study conducted by Holroyd and Baron-Cohen revealed that most autistics do not develop much of a theory of mind and even if they do, they develop a theory of mind maybe during their teenage years which is equivalent to the maturity of the theory of mind of a 3 to 4 year old.

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