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?



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10 Jun 2020, 11:08 am

DGuru wrote:
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.
I have a hunch that shrinks know a lot more about Asperger's than they let on. Now, think about what would cause Sally to distrust her peer Anne? Past mistreatment/bullying, of course. NT kids seldom get bullied, so they wouldn't distrust another kid a priori. Now, take projection into account: a kid being tested will project themselves onto Sally. An NT kid will automatically trust Anne, due to being treated well by other kids, and not assume she will hide the ball in her box. An aspie kid, on the other hand, having been bullied before, will assume that Anne is a bully too, and therefore "know" she moved the ball.

That said, the test doesn't even disclose if Sally and Anne know each other, although it subtly implies that they're friends. Did Anne previously pick on Sally? If they're strangers, wouldn't it be foolish for Sally to leave her ball where Anne can steal it? There are too many hidden elements. The test is designed to set up aspies to fail.

Also, Sally and Anne are girls. Would it make a difference if the kids in the test were Samuel and Anthony?



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11 Jun 2020, 10:57 am

I have pointed this out for years. I likely would have failed it simply due to not being able to even concentrate on it because it's so boring. I never heard of the Sally Anne test until my 30's, and I still had problem paying attention.


I absolutely think all those who test kids should do a good job asking the kids how they reasoned, why they come up with their answer.


There is a test called marshmallow test, where the kid is told that if they don't eat the marshmallow in front of them for a few minutes , then the tester will give them one more.
If I didn't know the tester, I wouldn't want to eat it at all, as I never accepted candy from strangers (something that in retrospect only happened once and she wasn't an actual stranger, she was just a stranger to me, but a neighbor of my grandparents and she knew who I was).
Even if I knew the tester or a family member had given me the green light, I likely wouldn't have trusted that just waiting would allow me one more. That wasn't about experience, I seldom had adults take something from me if ever. But I was a skeptical kid and if something sounded too good to be true, I would doubt it. Why would someone just hand me one more for waiting? It wouldn't make sense. Maybe they'd just take it from me, after all, why would try to give me candy on a regular day. I knew very well that sweets were for Saturdays, b-days and other special days.

So I expect I would either refuse to eat it, due to stranger danger, or hurry to eat it so I could at least get one, because hey, I liked marshmallows.


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Aspie1
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12 Jun 2020, 8:26 am

Skilpadde wrote:
There is a test called marshmallow test, where the kid is told that if they don't eat the marshmallow in front of them for a few minutes , then the tester will give them one more.
...
Even if I knew the tester or a family member had given me the green light, I likely wouldn't have trusted that just waiting would allow me one more. That wasn't about experience, I seldom had adults take something from me if ever. But I was a skeptical kid and if something sounded too good to be true, I would doubt it. Why would someone just hand me one more for waiting? It wouldn't make sense. Maybe they'd just take it from me, after all, why would try to give me candy on a regular day. I knew very well that sweets were for Saturdays, b-days and other special days.
The marshmallow test overlooks a very important concept: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." It means an already received small prize now is better than a potential big prize in the future.

So, if someone already gave me just one marshmallow, I know 100% that I have it for me to eat. Unlike waiting for two future marshmallows that might not even come. It's ultimately a cost/benefit decision on what's better: a guaranteed marshmallow now or merely possible two marshmallows in the future?

Why? Knowing how NT adults treat aspie kids, there's a possibility that I might not to get those two marshmallows at all. Maybe I'll do something to tick them off and "deserve" a punishment, maybe they'll spontaneously decide that marshmallows are bad for me, whatever. Either way, I won't get anything if I pass on the marshmallow I already have.

This might be different for NT kids, who know how to charm adults into giving them treats and reducing punishments. So they have more to gain from agreeing to wait until the two marshmallows come. This test is NT-centric.