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Empathy and emotion recognition in people with autism, first-degree relatives, and controls

Sucksmith, E.; Allison, C.; Baron-Cohen, S.; Chakrabarti, B. and Hoekstra, R. A. (2013). Empathy and emotion recognition in people with autism, first-degree relatives, and controls. Neuropsychologia, 51(1) pp. 98–105.

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Empathy is the lens through which we view others’ emotion expressions, and respond to them. In this study, empathy and facial emotion recognition were investigated in adults with autism spectrum conditions (ASC; N=314), parents of a child with ASC (N=297) and IQ-matched controls (N=184). Participants completed a self-report measure of empathy (the Empathy Quotient [EQ]) and a modified version of the Karolinska Directed Emotional Faces Task (KDEF) using an online test interface. Results showed that mean scores on the EQ were significantly lower in fathers (p<0.05) but not mothers (p>0.05) of children with ASC compared to controls, whilst both males and females with ASC obtained significantly lower EQ scores (p<0.001) than controls. On the KDEF, statistical analyses revealed poorer overall performance by adults with ASC (p<0.001) compared to the control group. When the 6 distinct basic emotions were analysed separately, the ASC group showed impaired performance across five out of six expressions (happy, sad, angry, afraid and disgusted). Parents of a child with ASC were not significantly worse than controls at recognising any of the basic emotions, after controlling for age and non-verbal IQ (all p>0.05). Finally, results indicated significant differences between males and females with ASC for emotion recognition performance (p<0.05) but not for self-reported empathy (p>0.05). These findings suggest that self-reported empathy deficits in fathers of autistic probands are part of the ‘broader autism phenotype’. This study also reports new findings of sex differences amongst people with ASC in emotion recognition, as well as replicating previous work demonstrating empathy difficulties in adults with ASC. The use of empathy measures as quantitative endophenotypes for ASC is discussed.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
ISSN: 0028-3932
Project Funding Details:
Funded Project NameProject IDFunding Body
Not SetNot SetThe Open University
Extra Information: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Neuropsychologia. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication.
Keywords: autism; empathy; emotion; broader autism phenotype; endophenotype
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Life, Health and Chemical Sciences
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Item ID: 35800
Depositing User: Edward Sucksmith
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2012 16:04
Last Modified: 02 May 2018 13:47
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