Empathy in autism spectrum conditions

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.


Selected References

715: P. Bos, D. Hofman, E. Hermans, E. Montoya, S. Baron-Cohen, J. van Honk (2016)
Testosterone reduces functional connectivity during the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test
Psychoneuroendocrinology 68:194-201

709: C Montgomery, C Allison, M-C Lai, S Cassidy, P Langdon, S Baron-Cohen (2016)
Do Adults with High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome Differ in Empathy and Emotion Recognition?
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 46:1931-1940

671: S Baron-Cohen, D Bowen, R Holt, C Allison, B Auyeung, M Lombardo, P Smith, M-C Lai (2015)
The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test: Complete Absence of Typical Sex Difference in ~400 Men and Women with Autism
PLoS ONE 10(8):e0136521

659: O Golan, Y Sinai-Gavrilov, S Baron-Cohen (2015)
The Cambridge Mindreading Face-Voice Battery for Children (CAM-C): complex emotion recognition in children with and without autism spectrum conditions
Molecular Autism 6:22

637: P. Rueda, P. Fernández-Berrocal, S. Baron-Cohen (2015)
Dissociation between cognitive and affective empathy in youth with Asperger Syndrome
European Journal of Developmental Psychology 12(1):85–98

617: R Holt, L Chura, M-C Lai, J Suckling, E von dem Hagen, A Calder, E Bullmore, S Baron-Cohen, M Spencer (2014)
‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’: an fMRI study of adolescents with autism and their siblings
Psychological Medicine 44:3215-3227

544: E. Sucksmith, C.Allison, S.Baron-Cohen, B.Chakrabarti, R.A.Hoekstra (2013)
Empathy and emotion recognition in people with autism, first-degree relatives, and controls
Neuropsychologia 51:98-105

536: B Auyeung, C Allison, S Wheelwright, S Baron-Cohen (2012)
Brief Report: Development of the Adolescent Empathy and Systemizing Quotients
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 42:2225-2235

531: M-C Lai, M V Lombardo, B Chakrabarti, C Ecker, S A Sadek, S J Wheelwright, D G M Murphy, John Suckling, E T Bullmore, MRC AIMS Consortium, S Baron-Cohen (2012)
Individual differences in brain structure underpin empathizing–systemizing cognitive styles in male adults
NeuroImage 61:1347–1354

517: M. Spencer, R. Holt, L. Chura, J. Suckling, A. Calder, E. Bullmore S. Baron-Cohen (2011)
A novel functional brain imaging endophenotype of autism: the neural response to facial expression of emotion
Translational Psychiatry 1:e19

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

492: J. van Honk, D. Schuttera, P. Bosa, A. Kruijtc, E. Lentjesd, S. Baron-Cohen (2011)
Testosterone administration impairs cognitive empathy in women depending on second-to-fourth digit ratio
PNAS 108(8):3448-3452

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

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