The objective of this study was to investigate the potential values of executive function and social cognition deficits as endophenotypes of autism. While theory of mind (ToM) is generally accepted as a unitary concept, some have suggested that ToM may be separated into two components (mental state reasoning and decoding). In this study, both aspects of ToM and verbal working memory abilities were investigated with relatively demanding tasks. The authors used a neurocognitive battery to compare the executive function and social cognition skills of 76 parents of autistic probands with 41 parents of healthy children. Both groups were matched for IQ, age and gender. Index parents had verbal working memory deficits. They had also low performance on a mental state reasoning task. Index parents had difficulties in reasoning about others' emotions. In contrast to findings in the control group, low performance of mental state reasoning ability was not associated with working memory deficit in index parents. Social cognition and working memory impairments may represent potential endophenotypes, related to an underlying vulnerability for autistic spectrum disorders. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All fights reserved.