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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01732

Theory of Robot Mind: False belief attribution to social robots in children with and without autism

Yaoxin Zhang1, Wenxu Song2, 3, Zhenlin Tan3, Yuyin Wang4,  Cheuk Man Lam5,  Sio Pan Hoi1, Qianhan Xiong1,  Jiajia Chen3, 6* and  Li Yi1*
  • 1Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavioral and Mental Health, College of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, Faculty of Science, Peking University, China
  • 2South China Normal University, China
  • 3Joint Research Centre of Photonics, South China Normal University, China
  • 4Department of Psychology, Sun Yat-sen University, China
  • 5Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  • 6Department of Electrical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden

This study aims to probe how children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) attribute false belief to a social robot and predict its action accordingly. Twenty 5- to 7-year-old children with ASD and 20 age- and IQ-matched typically-developing (TD) children participated in two false belief tasks adapted for robot settings (change-of-location task and the unexpected-contents task). The results showed that most TD children are capable of attributing false belief to the social robot, that is, they could infer higher-level mental states in robots, which extends our understanding in TD children’s perception and cognition on social robots. Conversely, children with ASD still show difficulty in interpreting robots’ mental states relative to their TD peers, similar as their impaired understanding of human’s mind. This group difference in attributing false belief to social robots could not be explained by the different perception and categorization of the robot. Our study implies that although children with ASD appear to be highly attracted by social robots, they still have difficulty in understanding mental states when socially interacting with robots, which should be taken into consideration when designing the robot-based intervention approach targeting to improve social behaviors of ASD.

Keywords: autism spactrum disorder, social robot, false belief, Children, Theory of Mind

Received: 08 Apr 2019; Accepted: 12 Jul 2019.

Edited by:

Ann Dowker, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Steven Stagg, Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom
Wing Chee So, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China  

Copyright: © 2019 Zhang, Song, Tan, Wang, Lam, Hoi, Xiong, Chen and Yi. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Mx. Jiajia Chen, Department of Electrical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, jiajiac@chalmers.se
Dr. Li Yi, Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavioral and Mental Health, College of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, Faculty of Science, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China, yilipku@pku.edu.cn