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Absence of spontaneous action anticipation by false belief attribution in children with autism spectrum disorder

  • Atsushi Senju (a1), Victoria Southgate (a1), Yui Miura (a2), Tomoko Matsui (a2), Toshikazu Hasegawa (a3), Yoshikuni Tojo (a4), Hiroo Osanai (a5) and Gergely Csibra (a1) (a6)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 April 2010

Recently, a series of studies demonstrated false belief understanding in young children through completely nonverbal measures. These studies have revealed that children younger than 3 years of age, who consistently fail the standard verbal false belief test, can anticipate others' actions based on their attributed false beliefs. The current study examined whether children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who are known to have difficulties in the verbal false belief test, may also show such action anticipation in a nonverbal false belief test. We presented video stimuli of an actor watching an object being hidden in a box. The object was then displaced while the actor was looking away. We recorded children's eye movements and coded whether they spontaneously anticipated the actor's subsequent behavior, which could only have been predicted if they had attributed a false belief to her. Although typically developing children correctly anticipated the action, children with ASD failed to show such action anticipation. The results suggest that children with ASD have an impairment in false belief attribution, which is independent of their verbal ability.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Atsushi Senju, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK; E-mail:
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