The goals of this project are to develop and pilot test a new technology-based intervention for helping high-functioning adolescents diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) learn theory of mind (ToM) and social reasoning skills.

This intervention, called Film Detective, is an adaptation of an existing educational technology system called Betty’s Brain, which was designed to help typically developing middle school students learn how to reason about complex systems in science using a learning-by-teaching approach.

Intervention Design

Film Detective aims to make theory of mind and social reasoning concepts more accessible and learnable by students on the spectrum in several ways:

  • Just as complex systems are taught in science—for example, breaking down an ecosystem into a set of causal relationships between weather, organisms, and habitat—break down complex social situations into their component parts, and make the relationships between parts explicit to the learner.
  • Make unobservable concepts—like a person’s beliefs, feelings, and goals—more easily visualized by learners using concept mapping activities.
  • Provide an engaging and inclusive storyline that helps learners feel like they are a central and capable part of the action.

Advanced Technology Development

As part of our research and development process, we use a variety of approaches from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, including:

  • Eye-tracking-enabled user studies that give us a detailed picture of how a person’s attentional patterns influence their user experience.
  • Crowdsourcing social knowledge to bring the wisdom of the crowds to our curriculum development efforts.
  • Cognitive models of social reasoning that provide a theoretical framework for understanding the components of theory of mind and other high-level cognitive constructs.