Performance on verbal and low-verbal false belief tasks: Evidence from children with Williams syndrome

Van Herwegen, Jo, Dimitriou, Dagmara and Rundblad, Gabriella (2013) Performance on verbal and low-verbal false belief tasks: Evidence from children with Williams syndrome. Journal of Communication Disorders, 46(5-6), pp. 440-448. ISSN (print) 0021-9924


Previous studies that have investigated the relationship between performance on theory of mind (ToM) tasks and verbal abilities in individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) have reported contradictory findings with some showing that language abilities aid performance on ToM tasks while others have found that participants with WS fail these tasks because of their verbal demands. The current study investigated this relationship again comparing performance on a classical change-location task to two newly developed low-verbal tasks, one change-location task and one unexpected content task. Thirty children with WS (aged 5-17;01 years) and 30 typically developing (TD) children (aged between 2;10 years and 9;09 years), who were matched for vocabulary comprehension scores were included in the study. Although performance in the WS group was significantly poorer compared to the TD group on all three tasks, performance was not predicted by their receptive vocabulary or grammatical ability scores. In addition, ToM abilities in both groups depended on the cognitive demands of the task at hand. This finding shows that performance on ToM tasks in WS is not necessarily hindered by their delayed language abilities but rather by the task administered. This could potentially affect the diagnosis of developmental disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, and comparison of ToM abilities across developmental disorders. Learning outcomes: Readers of this article should be able to (1) describe the current state of theory of mind research in Williams syndrome, (2) identify which cognitive abilities might explain performance on theory of mind tasks in both typically developing children and in children with Williams syndrome, and (3) understand the importance of task demands when assessing children's theory of mind abilities.

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