Neurodiversity and Neuroaffirmative

In line with the neurodiversity and neuroaffirmative movements, we would like to draw your attention to alternative approaches to supporting autistic individuals. As a starting point please consider visiting the Therapist Neurodiversity Collective, and The Autistic Advocate. More on this to follow.

Disclaimer | By: Gavin Cosgrave & Lasairíona McGuinness

Sally Anne Test

The Sally Anne test has been used in psychological research to investigate "Theory of Mind" in children with autism. This infographic is designed to give you a general rundown on the Sally Anne Test and how it was used to identify how some children with autism have difficulty understanding other people's perspectives.

Sally Anne Test Theory of Mind Infographic

The text content of the infographic is available by clicking here.

The Sally Anne Test has been used in psychological research to investigate Theory of Mind.

A Theory of Mind is the ability to understand your own and other people’s beliefs, desires, intentions and emotions.

Theory of Mind is important because “the ability to make inferences about what other people believe to be the case in a given situation allows one to predict what they will do.” (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985, p. 39).

It has been proposed that lacking a Theory of Mind may explain some of the social and communication difficulties experienced by individuals with autism. (Tager-Flusberg, 2007; Frith & Frith 2002).

To start the test, two dolls, one called Sally and the other called Anne, are presented to the child.

The child is then told that Sally has a basket and that Anne has a box.

Next the child is told that Sally puts a marble inside her basket...

...Sally then leaves and goes outside where she can no longer see her basket...

...while Sally is away Anne takes the marble from Sally’s basket and puts it inside her box...

...the child is told that Sally comes back inside.

To make sure the child understands the basics s/he is asked:

Q1. Which one is Sally?

Q2. Which one is Anne?

Q3. Where is the marble now?

Q4. Where was the marble in the beginning?

Then comes the big question.

The “Theory of Mind” question asks: Where will Sally look for her marble?

If the child realises that Sally will look for the marble in her own basket and not in the box, then the child can understand Sally’s perspective and you can say the child has a Theory of Mind. If the child says that Sally will look for the marble in Anne’s box then you might say the child does not have a Theory of Mind. In this case the child does not appear to understand Sally’s perspective and that she did not see Anne take the marble and put it inside the box. The Results?

The results below are from a frequently cited study by Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan Leslie and Uta Frith from 1985 that used the Sally Anne test with children with autism, children with Down Syndrome and typically developing children.

All of the children got the basic questions correct.

What about the Theory of Mind question?

Only 4 out of 20 children with autism got the question correct.

Of the children with Down Syndrome, 12 out of 14 got the question correct.

Of the typically developing children, 23 out of 27 got the question correct.

The results from similar studies showing that children with autism frequently get the Theory of Mind question incorrect is taken as the potential reason why they sometimes have difficulty with social skills and communication.

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