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Publication Detail
Revisiting the Strange Stories: revealing mentalizing impairments in autism.
The ‘Strange Stories’ have proved a useful test of advanced theory of mind (ToM), capable of revealing impairments in the understanding of others’ mental states in higher-functioning individuals with autism (Happé, 1994). Furthermore, three sets developed from the original Strange Stories of 8 mental state stories, 8 human physical state stories and a set of unlinked sentences were used in the first brain imaging study of ToM (Fletcher et al., 1995). In a pilot study we presented these three sets to the largest sample of adults and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to date: 39 children and 23 adults with ASD were compared to 81 control participants. Confirming previous results, the performance of individuals with ASD was lower on the mental than the physical state stories. However, the results revealed that the different story sets were not well matched. We therefore devised 5 modified sets of stories closely matched for difficulty and adapted in content for testing children: mental, human, animal and nature stories as well as unlinked sentences. 45 children with ASD were compared to 27 control children and all were assessed on an extensive battery of ToM tests. Children with ASD performed more poorly than controls on standard ToM tests and also more poorly on stories requiring mentalising, with a high correlation between these measures. Importantly, the ASD group did not differ from controls on the nature stories and unlinked sentences, while impairment on the other three sets was greatest for the mental stories and least for the animal stories. These results suggest that a mentalising deficit in ASD may have more widespread consequences than previously thought, affecting understanding of biological agents even when this does not explicitly require understanding of others’ mental states. The complete sets of stories including new and modified sets and scoring criteria are available in an Appendix.
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