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J Autism Dev Disord. 1999 Oct;29(5):407-18.

Recognition of faux pas by normally developing children and children with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.


Most theory of mind (ToM) tests are designed for subjects with a mental age of 4-6 years. There are very few ToM tests for subjects who are older or more able than this. We report a new test of ToM, designed for children 7-11 years old. The task involves recognizing faux pas. Study 1 tested 7-9, and 11-year-old normal children. Results showed that the ability to detect faux pas developed with age and that there was a differential developmental profile between the two sexes (female superiority). Study 2 tested children with Asperger syndrome (AS) or high-functioning autism (HFA), selected for being able to pass traditional 4- to 6-year level (first- and second-order) false belief tests. Results showed that whereas normal 9- to 11-year-old children were skilled at detecting faux pas, children with AS or HFA were impaired on this task. Study 3 reports a refinement in the test, employing control stimuli. This replicated the results from Study 2. Some patients with AS or HFA were able to recognize faux pas but still produced them. Future research should assess faux pas production.

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