Seeing more than human: Autism and anthropomorphic theory of mind

Gray Atherton, Liam Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
89 Downloads (Pure)


Theory of mind (ToM) is defined as the process of taking another’s perspective. Anthropomorphism can be seen as the extension of ToM to non-human entities. This review examines the literature concerning ToM and anthropomorphism in relation to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), specifically addressing the questions of how and why those on the spectrum both show an increased interest for anthropomorphism and may even show improved ToM abilities when judging the mental states of anthropomorphic characters. This review highlights that while individuals with ASD traditionally show deficits on a wide range of ToM tests, such as recognizing facial emotions, such ToM deficits may be ameliorated if the stimuli presented is cartoon or animal-like rather than human form. Individuals with ASD show a greater interest in anthropomorphic characters and process the features of these characters using methods typically reserved for human stimuli. Personal accounts of individuals with ASD also suggest they may identify more closely with animals than other humans. It is shown how the social motivations hypothesized to underlie the anthropomorphizing of non-human targets may lead those on the spectrum to seek social connections and therefore gain ToM experience and expertise amongst unlikely sources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
JournalFrontiers Psychology
Issue numberAPR
Early online date17 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2018


  • Animals
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Autism
  • Mentalizing
  • Perspective taking
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind


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