Not Knowing What I Feel: Emotional Empathy in ASD
Objectives: This study examines the emotional empathy of individuals with ASD whilst watching emotionally-driven stimuli.
Methods: Twenty-four individuals aged 16 or older (22 males; mean age 28 years) with a diagnosis of ASD and 25 matched controls (21 males, mean age 27) watched a series of five emotionally distressing film clips and five non-emotional clips. Participants then rated their mood and level of arousal on a 9-point Likert scale. Skin conductance was recorded as a measure of arousal along with corrugator EMG as a measure of emotion expression.
Results: No significant differences were found between groups for either of the psychophysiological measures indicating comparable physiological responding. Participants with ASD rated less negative mood to the emotional clips than control participants indicating a flattening of self-report affect, whereas self-reported arousal was similar between groups.
Conclusions: Whilst individuals with ASD appear to experience similar levels of physiological responding to emotionally-driven stimuli, they appear to interpret this response as having less emotional salience than controls. This has significant implications for understanding empathy impairments in the ASD population.