Double, Double, Toil and Trouble – Double Standards between Autistics and Neurotypicals

In 2001, Simon Baron-Cohen and a bunch of other people developed a test called “reading the mind in the eyes.”  The test showed a picture of the upper part of a person’s face (just their eyes) and the participant is supposed to choose one of four different possible emotions the eyes are telling them.  If you want an awesome example of satire on this BS (that means brain science, of course…sarcasm) test, this is a great post.

Now, that is just to get me into the next part of this post, which is infuriating.  In the original study, they determined that autistics have impairments in social intelligence (read theory of mind here) because they were not able to correctly answer what emotion the eyes were writing them.

Now, fast forward to an article I just read: “Can Neurotypical Individuals Read Autistic Expressions?  Atypical Production of Emotional Facial Expressions in Autism Spectrum Disorders” and you have the opposite of this test.  Autistic individuals (and neurotypicals as in the previous study) gave six different emotion facial expressions (happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger).

Now, I want to quick touch on one fact that makes this study seem odd to me.  Of the 15 ASD participants who took part in the photographs, 3 were women.  Of the 12 NT participants, 0 (that’s right 0) were women.  Um…what?  Add onto that that the judges panel (the people who tried to determine what emotional expression was being shown), there was 1 famale ASD out of 14 and 0 (yep, 0 again) out of 13 NT.  I don’t even know what to say here except…WTF?

So, just to recap (even though I already said it…which is kind of what a recap is, so now I’m just being redundant by talking again about what I’ve already talked about which is redundant…and now I’m being redundant even more.  OK, I’m done!) on one thing that is important before I get to the heart of this post.  Baron-Cohen and a bunch of other people decided that because autistics could not give the correct answers on the Read the Mind in the Eyes test, there was a deficiency in social intelligence (or theory of mind).

In the study I just finished reading, they found that both the control group of NTs and the autistic group could not determine what facial expression the autistics were giving.  The NTs were able to determine what facial expression the NTs were giving.

When I read that, I was excited because this was proof that ToM is reciprocal in that neurotypicals don’t have an automatic (could read innate here) theory of mind for autistics and autistics don’t have an automatic (again possibly innate) theory of mind for neurotypicals.  So, I expected them to claim that NTs have a social intelligence (read theory of mind) impairment for the autistic.

To my utter dismay, this was not to be.  Rather than continue with the “logic” (read that sarcastically) put forth by the Read the Mind in the Eyes article that NTs have a social intelligence impairment, the authors basically say “Well, those autistic people aren’t using the right facial expressions, so that’s why NTs weren’t able to figure out what emotion they were trying to do.”  So, they basically blame the autistic for the NTs failure to understand or comprehend or “read the mind in the eyes” of the autistic.  I’m serious trying not to swear about this right now because…oh, fuck it!  What the fuck!

The “logic” is that any time NT dominance of theory of mind is put into question (because they are unable to pass a “read the mind in the eyes” test with autistics) they then abandon the “logic” they used previously to determine that in the exact same situation (autistics not able to “read the mind in the eyes” of NTs) to determine that autistics don’t have a theory of mind and have a social impairment.

My head is beginning to swell up from all of the face palms I have to do through this research.


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