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Durham e-Theses
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Re-examining pathways to social understanding in children with typical development and autism

Coull, Greig Joseph (2007) Re-examining pathways to social understanding in children with typical development and autism. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Broadening of the original concept of theory of mind has been necessary to more accurately reflect the social complexity involved in arriving at an understanding of others' minds. However, such expansion has primarily focused on developmental mechanisms, whereas the issue of what social understanding actually encompasses has been relatively neglected. In an effort to dispel the resulting ambiguity which surrounds this latter aspect, this thesis pursued clarification of the potential constituents to children's social understanding in typical development and autism. Part 1 of the thesis required methodological enterprise as a prelude to the more theoretically driven focus outlined in Part 2 in order to first verify the subsequent use of valid and comprehensive measures of social cognition. Part 2 delved into the issue of: "What are the constituents of children’s social understanding?" adopting the theoretical framework offered by Tager-Flusberg and Joseph (2005) to guide our exploration of the constituents - social cognition, social perception, social attention, and language - and the possible continuity of paths between them. Contrary to expectation, no link was found between social-perceptual and social-cognitive abilities in 4- to 6-year-olds. However, a subsequent study of a much larger group of typically developing 4- to 5-year-olds was sufficiently broad to enable structural equation modelling of relationships between these constructs and constructs of social attention and language. These analyses revealed well- differentiated constituents of social understanding and directed us to a new model of social understanding in which language abilities were integral to the relationship between social perception and social cognition. Also, this new model suggested that the continuity between these three constructs was quite distinct from a lower-level construct encompassing joint attention and orienting abilities. The final experimental chapter then examined these findings in the context of autism - findings indicated that children with autism performed significantly less well than language-matched typical children within the domain of social attention but performed comparatively well within the social-perceptual construct. However, unlike typical children, neither this lack of a significant social-perceptual impairment nor language matching was sufficient to lead to social-cognitive success for children with autism. This substantiates the view that children with autism may only arrive at social-cognitive understanding by certain aspects of language, such as syntactic comprehension. The thesis findings underline the importance for social understanding research - in an ever-expanding field - to embrace apparent important distinctions between inherently different constituents of social understanding. Implications for future research and theoretical considerations are discussed.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2007
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:32

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