Theory of Mind (TOM)

Theory of mind is the capacity we have to understand mental states such as: believes, feelings, desires, hope and intentions. It’s the way we imagine other people’s feelings or thoughts. We can create a mental picture of our own emotions or other people’s feelings. This theory of mind enables us to understand the behavior people display is caused by their inner feelings, believes or intensions. We can predict some of those behaviors and anticipate on them. Whatever goes on in the mind of other people is not visible so it will remain a “theory” we create for ourselves.

But what if you are not able to link behavior of people to their inner feelings? This way you can’t understand or predict some-ones behavior due to a lack in theory of mind. How can you make sense of the behavior of others around you if you don’t understand somebody is sad and angry with you because you tore up her favorite dress? For people with Asperger that type of behavior might come out of the blue. They also can’t link their own behavior to the feelings of others so they can be unable to anticipate or predict such a response.

The absence of the ability to understand what people know, think or feel might be the root of most difficulties people with Asperger have in communication and social interaction. To test Theory of Mind in children, researchers can use a simple test made in (1996) by Uta Frith.


In the ability of Theory of Mind is a lot of unconscious knowledge of how others might think or feel. Recognizing emotions of others by correctly interpreting nonverbal cues can make communication much more effective. If you don’t have the ability to sense the level of interest of your listener you can not see from his body language or facial expression he wants to change the subject of conversation. This means children and adults with Asperger are not aware their long monologue can be boring to others.The painful or rude remarks they are known to make come from the inability to anticipate how their comments will effect other people. There is reason to believe the absence of Theory of Mind might be causing this as well.

Another theory that is used to explain some of the Asperger symptoms is Executive Function

Those with Asperger Syndrome have a very good eye for details but are most of the time are unable to see the "big picture".The Central Coherence Theory explains why.

Social Interaction

Theory of mind is based on empathy, the ability to feel for others and put yourself in their situation. Being able to do so will make interacting socially much easier. Understanding the emotions people go through will give you the ability to predict their behavior which will effect social interaction. Knowing what to expect will help you know how to respond to the situation. To children who are unable to take into consideration how others might feel, think or respond, the world can be a terrifying place to be.

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