UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 15 (2003)


Dissociation of social affect and theory of mind in a case of Asperger syndrome



We report on a case of Asperger syndrome (KH), who has considerable linguistic ability with a verbal IQ of 153. Strikingly, he readily and correctly identifies the use of sarcasm, showing mastery of the meta-representation and dissociation characteristic of ‘interpretive use’. Current theories of the syndrome largely agree on the constellation of properties which define it, but disagree on whether the basic cause resides in a deficit in Theory of Mind or in a social and emotional deficit. We suggest an account in a ‘quasi-modular’ version of the modularity hypothesis, as developed by Smith and Tsimpli. We specify a range of quasi-modules (including Theory of Mind and Social Interaction, itself divided into Social Cognition and Social Affect); we outline the structure of the Emotional component, including basic and derived emotions; and we then spell out some of their inter-connections and their relation to the Language Faculty. Our tentative conclusion is that all these components may dissociate, and that high intelligence, combined with linguistic ability, may mask a deficit in Theory of Mind, though not in Social Affect.

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