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Empathic resonance in Asperger syndrome


Hagenmuller, Florence; Rössler, Wulf; Wittwer, Amrei; Haker, Helene (2014). Empathic resonance in Asperger syndrome. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(7):851-859.

Abstract

Reports on theory-of-mind deficits have led to the common belief that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are associated with a lack of empathy. Resonance is a basic empathy-related process, linking two interacting individuals at the physiological level. Findings in ASD have been inconclusive regarding basic empathy. We investigated resonance at the autonomic level – the salivation-inducing effect of watching a person eating a lemon. Salivation-induction was assessed in 29 individuals with ASD and 28 control participants. Cotton rolls placed in the mouth were weighed before and after the video stimulation. Orientation to the stimulus was assessed with eye-tracking, autistic and empathic traits through self-reports. Group comparisons revealed lower salivation-induction in individuals with ASD. Linear regressions revealed different predictors of induction in each group: self-reported empathic fantasizing and age in ASD versus self-reported empathic concern plus orientation to the stimulus’ face in the control. In both groups the social component was relevant: in ASD in terms of intellectual involvement with social contents and in controls in terms of the mere presence of a social vis-à-vis. Individuals with ASD may use explicitly acquired intellectual strategies whereas individuals with typical development can rely on intuitive processes for social responsivity.

Abstract

Reports on theory-of-mind deficits have led to the common belief that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are associated with a lack of empathy. Resonance is a basic empathy-related process, linking two interacting individuals at the physiological level. Findings in ASD have been inconclusive regarding basic empathy. We investigated resonance at the autonomic level – the salivation-inducing effect of watching a person eating a lemon. Salivation-induction was assessed in 29 individuals with ASD and 28 control participants. Cotton rolls placed in the mouth were weighed before and after the video stimulation. Orientation to the stimulus was assessed with eye-tracking, autistic and empathic traits through self-reports. Group comparisons revealed lower salivation-induction in individuals with ASD. Linear regressions revealed different predictors of induction in each group: self-reported empathic fantasizing and age in ASD versus self-reported empathic concern plus orientation to the stimulus’ face in the control. In both groups the social component was relevant: in ASD in terms of intellectual involvement with social contents and in controls in terms of the mere presence of a social vis-à-vis. Individuals with ASD may use explicitly acquired intellectual strategies whereas individuals with typical development can rely on intuitive processes for social responsivity.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Biomedical Engineering
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Date:2014
Deposited On:05 Dec 2014 14:10
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 08:39
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1878-0237
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2014.04.008

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