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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A systematic analysis of the 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' task in children and what it means for understanding social perspective taking Cassels, Tracy Gardiner Caseels


How well we understand social perspective taking is intricately linked to how well we assess this ability; however, there are factors that can influence its assessment, altering how we conceptualize social perspective taking and its development. The goal of the current dissertation was to systematically analyze one of the most popular measures of social perspective taking in children, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task, by examining three specific measurement issues—what is being measured, response format, and coding scheme—to determine how these issues impact our understanding of social perspective taking more generally. Methods: Three studies were conducted with 249 children aged 4 to 13, including 54 children at-risk for affective perspective taking deficits. Two response formats (forced-choice vs. open-ended) and two coding schemes (term specific vs. valenced) were systematically compared on performance, relations to other abilities, and efficacy at measuring cognitive versus affective perspective taking. Comparison measures included dispositional empathy, cognitive perspective taking, and verbal ability. Results: There was a significant effect of response format, with the forced-choice format related to both cognitive and verbal abilities, suggesting that its performance is more apt to be influenced, unnecessarily, by the participants’ vocabulary knowledge or use of alternate strategies. Furthermore, the forced-choice format was unrelated to dispositional empathy and cognitive perspective taking and failed to differentiate typically-developing from at-risk children. In contrast, the open-ended format was significantly related to dispositional empathy and differentiated at-risk from typically-developing children. Taken together these results a) raise concerns about the use of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task as a measure of cognitive perspective taking and b) reveal that an open-ended format provides a better measure of affective perspective taking than the forced-choice format. The effect of coding scheme was less clear, with evidence that term-specific coding was linked to vocabulary knowledge only in typically-developing children and only in a forced-choice response format. Implications: Findings are discussed in terms of implications on the type of information that can be gleaned from the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task and their relevance for studying social perspective taking more generally.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada