The A prominent paper in the literature on ASC

 The concept of self, although commonly used in
psychology, is known to be notoriously difficult to define. Self-concept can be
broadly defined as various mutual experiences and ideas about the self in
facets of life, such as, knowing we are the same person across time, knowing
that we are unique from the environment and therefore we are responsible of our
thoughts and actions (Lyons & Fitzgerald, 2013). Being aware of one’s own
self and ones’ own mental states, refers to an important term under
self-concept, known as self-awareness (Huang et al., 2017). In
specific, many researchers have questioned the link between theory of mind and self-awareness,
examining the notion on whether the cognitive mechanism used to attribute
thoughts and feelings to others and predict behavior is the same one used for
reflecting on ones’ own mental state (Frith & Happe, 1999).  In pursuit of answering such questions,
psychologists have found that Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), has
been able to provide a model that explores the nature of self-awareness.
ASC is
a developmental disorder that is diagnosed on the basis of early
arising abnormalities in imagination, social interaction and communication
(William & Happe, 2008). A prominent paper in the literature on ASC and
self-awareness, by Frith & Happe (1999) claims that those diagnosed with
ASC are unlikely to be able to reflect upon their own mental states due to a
deficit in the cognitive mechanism used for theory of mind.  Although a bunch of findings
have supported this notion, this disputatious claim has
instigated discussion among a number of psychologists. These psychologists
argue that it may be quite deterministic to assume that all
those who are diagnosed with ASC have a completely diminished sense of self.

Using the literature present on
this topic, the essay will aim to define the relationship between theory of
mind, theory of own mind and ASC. This essay will then, attempt to argue that
the extent in which those who are diagnosed with ASC are able to reflect upon
their own mental state is dependent on whether the aspect of self-awareness
that is being measured is psychological self-awareness or physical
self-awareness.  

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Before
proceeding to examine self-awareness in ASC, it is important to acknowledge the
role of theory of mind in relation to this topic. Theory of mind refers to the cognitive ability to reflect upon the
desires, perspectives and beliefs of others and the ability to predict others
behavior with reference to these mental states (Premack and Woodruff, 1978). Theory
of mind also allows for the ability to distinguish that others mental states
are different from one’s own (Goldman, 2012). The attribution of mental states
is also critical in aiding the development of communication, as well as, affective
and social interaction with others (Perner et al., 1989).  Researchers have found strong evidence
suggesting that the development of Theory of Mind is a product of a cognitive
process that is innately present in humans, and is triggered by appropriate
environmental factors (Goldman, 2012; Baren-Cohen, 1995). In specific, this
cognitive process refers to a representational system made up of that begins as
Primary first order-representations (understanding reality), and at around
18 months of age, the child’s capacity then extends into second order-representations
(one thing can represent another). Through communication and social interaction
at the ages of 3-4, is then when one acquires meta-representations
(representation of a representation) of the world (Lesile, 1987).

 

An extensive amount of research made on the development of theory
of mind, resulted in a `number of paradigms that have been introduced as
methods of testing this notion. The most prominent litmus test used for theory
of mind is the false belief task, Wimmer & Perner (1983) defined this as an
assessment of the ability to isolate ones’ own beliefs from the beliefs of
another person who may have false knowledge of a certain situation. One task
that is highly used to assess the ability to attribute false beliefs to other
people, is a location change task, the Sally-Anne task. In this task, two
puppets are shown to the child, Sally who has a box and Anne who
has a basket. Sally is then shown to have put a marble in her box and proceeds
to leave the scenario, Anne is then shown to take the marble from the box and
place it into her basket. Sally, is then reintroduced to the scenario and
children are asked “where does sally think the ball is”. Using this
task, a range of studies found that usually aged between 3 and 4 tend to find
it easier to answer questions on false belief and tend to pass similar tasks to
this as well, (e.g. appearance reality test, smarties content change false
belief task) (Gopkin & Astington, 1988; William & Happe, 2009; Perner
1985).  Theory theorist argue that
children who do not pass these tasks are unable to do so because they have not
acquired a representational theory of belief and thus are unable to grasp the
notion that a belief can be false to someone else (Goldman, 2012).