Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 862–881 | Cite as

Is Social Categorization the Missing Link Between Weak Central Coherence and Mental State Inference Abilities in Autism? Preliminary Evidence from a General Population Sample

  • Daniel P. Skorich
  • Adrienne R. May
  • Louisa A. Talipski
  • Marnie H. Hall
  • Anita J. Dolstra
  • Tahlia B. Gash
  • Beth H. Gunningham
Original Paper


We explore the relationship between the ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) and ‘central coherence’ difficulties of autism. We introduce covariation between hierarchically-embedded categories and social information—at the local level, the global level, or at both levels simultaneously—within a category confusion task. We then ask participants to infer the mental state of novel category members, and measure participants’ autism-spectrum quotient (AQ). Results reveal a positive relationship between AQ and the degree of local/global social categorization, which in turn predicts the pattern of mental state inferences. These results provide preliminary evidence for a causal relationship between central coherence and ToM abilities. Implications with regard to ToM processes, social categorization, intervention, and the development of a unified account of autism are discussed.


Autism Weak central coherence Theory of mind Categorization Social categorization Self-categorization 



We would like to thank Anne Aimola-Davies, Laura Birchall, Alex Haslam, Ken Mavor, Katie Stalker, Lidan Zheng, Carla Mazefsky and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on this research.

Author Contributions

All authors made substantial contributions to the design of the experiment reported in this paper; to the acquisition, analysis, and interpretation of the data; to the drafting of the manuscript, and to all revisions made; and all authors have given final approval of the version to be published.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel P. Skorich
    • 1
  • Adrienne R. May
    • 1
  • Louisa A. Talipski
    • 1
  • Marnie H. Hall
    • 1
  • Anita J. Dolstra
    • 1
  • Tahlia B. Gash
    • 1
  • Beth H. Gunningham
    • 1
  1. 1.Research School of PsychologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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