Relevant background information-

What is Autism?
Autism is a brain disorder that often makes it hard to communicate with and relate to others. With autism, the different areas of the brain fail to work together.
Most people with autism will always have some trouble relating to others. But early diagnosis and treatment have helped more and more people who have autism to reach their full potential.
Causes of Autism-
Autism is thought to be inherited since it runs in families. Scientists however are still working to see which genes are responsible for passing down autism in families. There are also studies being made to see whether autism can be caused by other medical problems or by something in your child’s surroundings. Some people think that childhood vaccines cause autism but studies haven’t shown this to be true.
The main aim of this experiment was to investigate if high functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome would be impaired on a theory of mind test called the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task.’ The researchers were also interested to find out if females would be better than males on the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task’

Research Method-
Testing the participants also the method used is a natural or quasi experiment. Quasi experiments take advantage of conditions which occur naturally.

How was data collected?
The participants of the group had to look at a pair of eyes and choose from a number of options that the person was feeling. There was also a use of standardized procedure in the way the photographs were presented ensured that the researchers could claim with some certainty what there person was feeling.
What type of data was collected?
The experiment collected quantitative data in the form of scores on the Eye Tasks.

There were participants with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. The participants were divided into three groups. Group 1 consisted of sixteen participants with high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. They were all of normal intelligence. There were 13 men and 3 women. Group 2 consisted of fifty age-matched controls (25 male and 25 female) with no history of psychiatric disorder and presumed to be of normal intelligence. Group 3 consisted of ten participants with Tourette syndrome. These participants were also age matched with groups 1 and 2. There were eight men and two women, mirroring the sex ratio of group 1. They were all of normal intelligence.
The Eyes Task, the Strange Stories Task, and the two control tasks were presented in random order, to all participants and they were tested individually in a quiet room either in their own home, in a researcher’s clinic, or at a lab at the University. The Eyes Task comprises of photographs of the eye region of 25 different male and female faces. The photographs were taken from magazines and were standardized in that they were all black and white, all from the same region of the face (from midway along the nose to just above the eyebrow) and all of the same size. Each picture was shown for three seconds and participants were given a forced choice question between two mental states printed under each picture. The Experimenter says to the subject" Which word best describes what this person is feeling or thinking?" The maximum score on this test is 25.
Special equipment/materials?
  • Pictures of the eyes.

As predicted high functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome did have more difficulties with the Eye Task than both ‘normal’ adults and adults with Tourette syndrome.
It was also found that ‘normal’ adult males had more difficulties with the Eye Task than ‘normal’ adult females.

On the Strange Stories Task none of the participants with Tourette syndrome made any mistakes whereas many of those participants with autism and Asperger syndrome had difficulties with this task.
On the Gender and Emotion Control Tasks, there were no differences between the groups.

Conclusions (based off of results)-

Adults with autism or Asperger syndrome do have more difficulties with the Eye Task than both ‘normal’ adults and adults with Tourette syndrome.

The main strength of this experiment is the control of variables. Variables were controlled such as intelligence, sex and developmental disorders. The researchers were able to ensure that the differences between the scores of the three groups of participants were something to do with being autistic.

One of the weaknesses of the study is the ecological validity of the experiment. Some of the participants were tested at a lab in a University and this may have had an effect on performance. Probably more importantly the Eye Task test can be questioned as it is an unusual task which is much simpler than the demands of real live social situations.

Ecological Validity-
In this study there wasn’t much ecological validity because some of the participants were tested in a lab in a University. This isn’t something that people go through usually therefore this doesn’t have much ecological validity.

This study was ethical considering that everyone knew what was going on, they knew that they were in a study. Also they weren’t asked to do anything that would negatively affect them or anyone else. They study was pretty ethical.