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Kathryn Williamson, Lorna Jakobson; Impaired Ability to Infer Intentionality in Children Born at Very Low Birth Weight. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):25. doi: 10.1167/13.9.25.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Children born at very low birth weight (VLBW; <1500 g) are at increased risk for impairments affecting social functioning, including autism spectrum disorders (Johnson et al, 2010). One area that has not been examined in this population is theory of mind (ToM) reasoning: the ability to attribute mental states (beliefs, intentions or desires) to oneself and to others. In the present study we used the Happe-Frith Animated Triangles task to study this ability in VLBW children and full-term controls. Participants included 34 VLBW children and 36 full-term controls, aged 8-11 years. Groups were comparable in terms of age-at-test, processing speed, verbal IQ, gender, handedness, and SES. They completed the Animated Triangles task, which includes animations depicting two triangles moving randomly with respect to one another (random), ones depicting physical interactions (goal-directed), and ones depicting interactions with implied intentionality (ToM). As descriptions provided by VLBW children were shorter than those of full-term peers [t(68) = 2.4, p<.02] we controlled for description length (word count) in subsequent analyses. Although the groups did not differ in terms of the degree of certainty they displayed when describing the animations, VLBW children generally provided less appropriate descriptions than their peers [F(1,67)=4.0, p<.05]. However, both groups of children found it most challenging to describe the ToM displays appropriately [F(2,134) = 5.8, p<.005]. Importantly, VLBW children over-attributed intentionality to shapes in the random displays and under-attributed intentionality those in the ToM displays; performance with the goal-directed displays did not differ between the groups [F(2,134)=9.5, p<.001]. Together, these results suggest that, like adults with autism (e.g., Castelli et al 2002), VLBW children are impaired in their ability to use dynamic cues to attribute intentionality. This impairment may reflect atypical development of and/or functioning in the superior temporal sulcus – a region implicated in this ability (Castelli et al. 2002).
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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