Could Lack of Interest Impact Theory of Mind Tests?

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DGuru
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06 Mar 2013, 7:12 am

How do psychologists for example in the Sally and Anne Test control for lack of interest or rather how do they guarantee the child will be interested?

I notice in my daily life my abilities on things are unstable, my ability to do something well or not will depend on whether I really get into or not and my ability to do that depends on a number of factors, present stimuli, stimuli that was just there a few minutes or even longer ago, memories, ongoing interests.

When I am sufficiently distracted I often make some very dumb mistakes that I wouldn't if I hadn't been so distracted.

Regarding Sally and Anne I can imagine passing that at 4 if I were truly engaged in it, but failing it now (had I not been familiar with it already from reading about it) if I had a bunch of (or one very engaging and compelling) sets of thoughts processes, memories, and distractions.

And studies do show that some autistic children pass the test.

Could it be that our deficit is as simple as we're just not that interested in people and so unlikely to fully engage our minds during this task? Unlikely to care enough about the outcome, about whether we get it right or not to pause and give the right answer and instead just give an impulsive answer to a situation we're not really paying much attention to?



arielhawksquill
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06 Mar 2013, 7:48 am

Wouldn't that be just as much a sign of autism, though? The test would still be a valid indicator, even if the reason for the outcome was lack of attention or lack of understanding.



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06 Mar 2013, 11:30 am

arielhawksquill wrote:
Wouldn't that be just as much a sign of autism, though? The test would still be a valid indicator, even if the reason for the outcome was lack of attention or lack of understanding.

But deficits in theory of mind are not unique to autism, nor are they a defining trait... they're just commonly found, and thought to be at least partially responsible for the problems with social interactions which are a key trait.



DGuru
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07 Mar 2013, 1:16 am

arielhawksquill wrote:
Wouldn't that be just as much a sign of autism, though? The test would still be a valid indicator, even if the reason for the outcome was lack of attention or lack of understanding.


Yes.

But the question has implications for the nature of autism.
What if NTs have some sort of innate people-preference bias that we lack instead of there being faulty in some "social module", that would still cause us to be behind?
If I really study a person, get to really know them then I understand them. I may get to know even little details others miss.
I remember testing my own mother's mind in the bathtub at age 2. I pooped in the tub to see if she wouldn't notice it just like how sometimes she wouldn't notice if I peed. Didn't work. Doing that to test my mom means I was aware of her mind.
But when they test for theory of mind the assumption is always you know it or you don't. The possibility that a child who failed the test may have nevertheless exercised theory of mind accurately on previous occasions is not considered. If we had time travel I bet they'd find that many kids pass the test or not depending on a great deal of extraneous factors that would have consequences for what the child focuses on during the task.
Another complication is what if a child believes Sally will suspect Anne and so fails the test? If that were the reason then that's even deeper theory of mind because the child is imagining Sally knowing that Anne is deceptive and likely to hide her things.
Also, going back to the effects of interest, there's the difference between answering because that's what you think it is and answering because you don't really care so you just say something.

I just realized there would be a way to test this.
What happens when a reward is introduced for a correct answer? Does that lead to more success?