Empathy in autism spectrum conditions

Simon Baron-Cohen, Richard Bethlehem, Carrie Allison, Bonnie Auyeung, Mike Lombardo, Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Amber Ruigrok, Meng-Chuan Lai.

The ARC began work in this area by studying 'theory of mind' (ToM) deficits in autism and Asperger Syndrome. ToM is the ability to attribute mental states to others, to infer what someone else is thinking or feeling. It is one of the two major components of empathy, sometimes known as 'cognitive empathy'. The other major component is known as 'affective empathy', or the drive to respond with an appropriate emotion to someone else's mental states. Our work is showing that in Asperger Syndrome it is primarily cognitive empathy that is impaired, whilst affective empathy is intact. In classic autism, both components of empathy may be impaired. 

We study the cognitive component using tests of emotion recognition and mental state inference. We study the affective component using measures of arousal (heart rate, galvanic skin response) and using questionnaires such as the Empathy Quotient (EQ). We have developed different versions of the EQ for different age groups.

Although a psychological construct, we are also relating measures of empathy to brain activity using fMRI, genetic polymorphisms, and prenatal hormone levels. We have also developed novel teaching methods for helping cognitive empathy to develop, using educational software and children's animation.

Finally, we are testing the relationship between empathy, alexythymia, and self-awareness, using methods from experimental psychology.



508: M. Lai, M. Lombardo, G. Pasco, A. Ruigrok, S. Wheelwright, S. Sadek, B. Chakrabarti, MRC AIMS Consortium, S. Baron-Cohen (2011)
A Behavioral Comparison of Male and Female Adults with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Conditions
PLoS ONE 6(6):e20835

493: A. Preti, M. Vellante, S. Baron-Cohen, G. Zucca, D. Petretto, C. Masala (2011)
The Empathy Quotient: a cross-cultural comparison of the Italian version.
Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 16(1):50-70

491: M. Lombardo, B. Chakrabarti; E. Bullmore, MRC AIMS Consortium, S. Baron-Cohen (2011)
Specialization of right temporo-parietal junction for mentalizing and its relation to social impairments in autism
NeuroImage 56:1832-1838

443: B. Auyeung, S. Wheelwright, C. Allison, M. Atkinson, S. Samarawickrema, S. Baron-Cohen (2009)
The Children's Empathy Quotient and Systemizing Quotient: Sex Differences in Typical Development and in Autism Spectrum Conditions
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 39:1509-1521

385: M. Lombardo, J. Barnes, S. Wheelwright and S. Baron-Cohen (2007)
Self-Referential Cognition and Empathy in Autism
PLoS ONE 2(9):e883

358: B. Chakrabarti, E. Bullmore and S. Baron-Cohen (2006)
Empathizing with basic emotions: Common and discrete neural substrates
Social Neuroscience 1:364-384

316: O. Golan, S. Baron-Cohen, S. Wheelwright and J. J. Hill (2006)
Systemizing empathy: Teaching adults with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism to recognize complex emotions using interactive multimedia.
Development and Psychopathology 18:591-617

217: J. Lawson, S. Baron-Cohen and S. Wheelwright (2004)
Empathising and systemising in adults with and without Asperger Syndrome
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 34:301-310

166: S. Baron-Cohen, S. Wheelwright, J. Hill, Y. Raste and I. Plumb (2001)
The "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" Test Revised Version: A Study with Normal Adults, and Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 42(2):241-252

132: S. Baron-Cohen, M. O'Riordan, R. Jones, V. Stone and K. Plaisted (1999)
Recognition of Faux Pas by Normally Developing Children and Children with Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 29:407-418

1: S. Baron-Cohen, A. M. Leslie and U. Frith (1985)
Does the autistic child have a 'theory of mind'?
Cognition 21:37-46

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