Compensation and theory of mind : an investigation into the counter compensatory value of decreasing the answer and stimuli presentation time of theory of mind assessments : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Psychology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Over the last few decades there has been a huge growth of interest in the concept of theory of mind (ToM). However, recent research suggests that many ToM assessment have a range of psychometric issues, one recently discerned and highly problematic issue of which is that many individuals with significant ToM deficits and real-world social difficulties are able successfully pass ToM assessments through the use of compensatory strategies, invalidating the assessment (Livingston et al., 2019b). One way to potentially fix this issue and improve the assessments psychometric properties may lie in the addition of increased answer or stimuli presentation time constraints. To test this theory we designed an experiment based around three manipulated versions of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET-R). These three variations forming the main IV of the experiment and consisting of a ‘long’ variation with a 20 sec answer time, a ‘short’ variation with a 5 sec answer time, and a ‘occluded’ variation with a 0.5 second stimuli presentation time limit, and a 5 sec answer time limit. As we lacked access to a clinical sample we chose to assess if our three experimental conditions moderated the relationship between RMET-R scores and two other theoretically related measures. 381 participants were recruited from Prolific academic to conduct an online experiment in which they randomly completed one of our three RMET-R variations and a series of other measures including the TEQ and MentS. Contrary to as we hypothesised the results analyses indicated that shortening the available answer time of the assessment significantly increased the difficulty of the RMET-R, but not its validity or reliability. And that shortening the presentation time of the RMET-R’s stimuli had no effect on the test’s difficulty, validity or reliability. However it is quite possible that our sample simply lacked the compensating individuals that were required to test our theory, and that our results simply indicate the effect of our experimental constraints on neurotypical individuals. Unexpectedly this pattern of results suggests that our experimental constraints could alternatively be quite useful in increasing the ecological validity of ToM assessments.