Sally–Anne test

The Sally–Anne test is a psychological test, used in developmental psychology to measure a person's social cognitive ability to attribute false beliefs to others.[1] The flagship implementation of the Sally–Anne test was by Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan M. Leslie, and Uta Frith (1985);[2] in 1988, Leslie and Frith repeated the experiment with human actors (rather than dolls) and found similar results.[3]

Sally-Anne test
The original Sally-Anne cartoon used in the test by Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Frith (1985)

Test description

To develop an efficacious test, Baron-Cohen et al. modified the puppet play paradigm of Wimmer and Perner (1983), in which puppets represent tangible characters in a story, rather than hypothetical characters of pure storytelling. In the Baron-Cohen, Leslie, and Frith study of theory of mind in autism, 61 children—20 of whom were diagnosed autistic under established criteria, 14 with Down syndrome and 27 of whom were determined as clinically unimpaired—were tested with "Sally" and "Anne".[2]

In the test process, after introducing the dolls, the child is asked the control question of recalling their names (the Naming Question). A short skit is then enacted; Sally takes a marble and hides it in her basket. She then "leaves" the room and goes for a walk. While she is away, Anne takes the marble out of Sally's basket and puts it in her own box. Sally is then reintroduced and the child is asked the key question, the Belief Question: "Where will Sally look for her marble?"[2]


For a participant to pass this test, they must answer the Belief Question correctly by indicating that Sally believes that the marble is in her own basket. This answer is continuous with Sally's perspective, but not with the participant's own. If the participant cannot take an alternative perspective, they will indicate that Sally has cause to believe, as the participant does, that the marble has moved. Passing the test is thus seen as the manifestation of a participant understanding that Sally has her own beliefs that may not correlate with reality; this is the core requirement of theory of mind.[4]

In the Baron-Cohen et al. (1985) study, 23 of the 27 clinically unimpaired children (85%) and 12 of the 14 Down syndrome children (86%) answered the Belief Question correctly. However, only four of the 20 autistic children (20%) answered correctly. Overall, children under the age of four, along with most autistic children (of older ages), answered the Belief Question with "Anne's box", seemingly unaware that Sally does not know her marble has been moved.[2]

The test is by no means fully conclusive; however, its application is telling about social development trends in autism.


While Baron-Cohen et al.'s data have been purported to indicate a lack of theory of mind in autistic children, there are other possible factors affecting them. For instance, individuals with autism may pass the cognitively simpler recall task, but language issues in both autistic children and deaf controls tend to confound results.[5]

Ruffman, Garnham, and Rideout (2001) further investigated links between the Sally–Anne test and autism in terms of eye gaze as a social communicative function. They added a third possible location for the marble: the pocket of the investigator. When autistic children and children with moderate learning disabilities were tested in this format, they found that both groups answered the Belief Question equally well; however, participants with moderate learning disabilities reliably looked at the correct location of the marble, while autistic participants did not, even if the autistic participant answered the question correctly.[6] These results may be an expression of the social deficits relevant to autism.

Tager-Flusberg (2007) states that in spite of the empirical findings with the Sally-Anne task, there is a growing uncertainty among scientists about the importance of the underlying theory-of-mind hypothesis of autism. In all studies that have been done, some children with autism pass false-belief tasks such as Sally-Anne.[7]

In other hominids

Eye tracking of chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans suggests that all three anticipate the false beliefs of a subject in a King Kong suit, and pass the Sally–Anne test.[8][9]


  1. ^ Wimmer, Heinz; Perner, Josef (January 1983). "Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children's understanding of deception". Cognition. 13 (1): 103–128. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(83)90004-5. PMID 6681741.
  2. ^ a b c d Baron-Cohen, Simon; Leslie, Alan M.; Frith, Uta (October 1985). "Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"?". Cognition. 21 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8. PMID 2934210. Pdf.
  3. ^ Leslie, Alan M.; Frith, Uta (November 1988). "Autistic children's understanding of seeing, knowing and believing". British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 6 (4): 315–324. doi:10.1111/j.2044-835X.1988.tb01104.x.
  4. ^ Premack, David; Woodruff, Guy (December 1978). "Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 1 (4): 515–526. doi:10.1017/S0140525X00076512.
  5. ^ "Autism and Theory of Mind: A Theory in Transition". Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  6. ^ Ruffman, Ted; Garnham, Wendy; Rideout, Paul (November 2001). "Social understanding in autism: eye gaze as a measure of core insights". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 42 (8): 1083–1094. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00807. PMID 11806690.
  7. ^ Tager-Flusberg, Helen (December 2007). "Evaluating the theory-of-mind hypothesis of autism". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 16 (6): 311–315. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00527.x.
  8. ^ Krupenye, Christopher; Kano, Fumihiro; Hirata, Satoshi; Call, Josep; Tomasello, Michael (2016-10-07). "Great apes anticipate that other individuals will act according to false beliefs". Science. 354 (6308): 110–114. Bibcode:2016Sci...354..110K. doi:10.1126/science.aaf8110. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 27846501.
  9. ^ Devlin, Hannah (2016-10-06). "Apes can guess what others are thinking - just like humans, study finds". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-10-09.
Cognitive test

Cognitive tests are assessments of the cognitive capabilities of humans and other animals. Tests administered to humans include various forms of IQ tests; those administered to animals include the mirror test (a test of visual self-awareness) and the T maze test (which tests learning ability). Such study is important to research concerning the philosophy of mind and psychology, as well as determination of human and animal intelligence.

Modern cognitive tests originated through the work of James McKeen Cattell who coined the term "mental tests". They followed Francis Galton's development of physical and physiological tests. For example, Galton measured strength of grip and height and weight. He established an "Anthropometric Laboratory" in the 1880s where patrons paid to have physical and physiological attributes measured. Galton's measurements had an enormous influence on psychology. Cattell continued the measurement approach with simple measurements of perception. Cattell's tests were eventually abandoned in favor of the battery test approach developed by Alfred Binet.


Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position. Definitions of empathy encompass a broad range of emotional states. Types of empathy include cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and somatic empathy.

List of tests

The following is an alphabetized and categorized list of notable tests.

Mechanism of autism

Autism's symptoms result from maturation-related changes in various systems of the brain. How autism occurs is not well understood. Its mechanism can be divided into two areas: the pathophysiology of brain structures and processes associated with autism, and the neuropsychological linkages between brain structures and behaviors. The behaviors appear to have multiple pathophysiologies.There is evidence that gut–brain axis abnormalities may be involved. A 2015 review proposed that immune dysregulation, gastrointestinal inflammation, malfunction of the autonomic nervous system, gut flora alterations, and food metabolites may cause brain neuroinflammation and dysfunction. A 2016 review concludes that enteric nervous system abnormalities might play a role in neurological disorders such as autism. Neural connections and the immune system are a pathway that may allow diseases originated in the intestine to spread to the brain.Several lines of evidence point to synaptic dysfunction as a cause of autism. Some rare mutations may lead to autism by disrupting some synaptic pathways, such as those involved with cell adhesion. Gene replacement studies in mice suggest that autistic symptoms are closely related to later developmental steps that depend on activity in synapses and on activity-dependent changes. All known teratogens (agents that cause birth defects) related to the risk of autism appear to act during the first eight weeks from conception, and though this does not exclude the possibility that autism can be initiated or affected later, there is strong evidence that autism arises very early in development.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen (born 15 August 1958) is a British clinical psychologist and professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge. He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre and a Fellow of Trinity College. In 1985, Baron-Cohen formulated the mind-blindness theory of autism, the evidence for which he collated and published in 1995. In 1997, he formulated the fetal sex steroid theory of autism, the key test of which was published in 2015. He has also made major contributions to the fields of typical cognitive sex differences, autism prevalence and screening, autism genetics, autism neuroimaging, autism and technical ability, and synaesthesia. However, his views on autism and sex differences, such as the fetal sex steroid theory, are controversial, some critics asserting that Baron-Cohen's theories are based on subjective perceptions.

The Machine (film)

The Machine is a 2013 British science fiction thriller film directed and written by Caradog W. James. It stars Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens as computer scientists who create an artificial intelligence for the British military.

Theory of mind

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to oneself, and to others, and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own. Theory of mind is crucial for everyday human social interactions and is used when analyzing, judging, and inferring others' behaviors. Deficits can occur in people with autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cocaine addiction, and brain damage suffered from alcohol's neurotoxicity, but not opiate addiction after prolonged abstinence. Although philosophical approaches to this exist, the theory of mind as such is distinct from the philosophy of mind.


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