Spontaneous belief attribution in younger siblings of children on the autism spectrum

Teodora Gliga, Atsushi Senju, Michèle Pettinato, Tony Charman, Mark H Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The recent development in the measurements of spontaneous mental state understanding, employing eye-movements instead of verbal responses, has opened new opportunities for understanding the developmental origin of "mind-reading" impairments frequently described in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Our main aim was to characterize the relationship between mental state understanding and the broader autism phenotype, early in childhood. An eye-tracker was used to capture anticipatory looking as a measure of false beliefs attribution in 3-year-old children with a family history of autism (at-risk participants, n = 47) and controls (control participants, n = 39). Unlike controls, the at-risk group, independent of their clinical outcome (ASD, broader autism phenotype or typically developing), performed at chance. Performance was not related to children's verbal or general IQ, nor was it explained by children "missing out" on crucial information, as shown by an analysis of visual scanning during the task. We conclude that difficulties with using mental state understanding for action prediction may be an endophenotype of autism spectrum disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)903-913
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity/diagnosis
  • Child Behavior/psychology
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive/complications
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication Disorders/etiology
  • Culture
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment (Health Care)
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Siblings/psychology
  • Social Behavior Disorders/etiology
  • Social Perception
  • Time Factors

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