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- Researchers have conclusively shown that people with autistic traits show less empathy and reduced understanding of other people’s feelings in a new study out today from the University of Bath and King’s College London (1000 BST Friday 7 June 2019).
- Whilst autism might be associated with social difficulties, there has been debate in recent years about whether the autistic community experience difficulties in processing emotion or not and the exact form this takes.
- This has centred on difficulties in measuring empathy, but also on the complicating factor that many autistic people also experience alexithymia, the condition otherwise known as ’emotional blindness’. Those with alexithymia face difficulties in understanding their own and others’ emotions, yet it was less clear whether autistic people without the condition faced the same challenge.
- Their results found that having more autistic tendencies was linked to lower empathy, even after factoring in alexithymia. Using computerised simulations, in advanced statistics used for the very first time in the history of autism research, autism was the more ‘dominant’ and statistically important link to empathy when compared to alexithymia. These simulations showed that the results would be found around 90% of the time in the population. Their results were found in two studies and held after factoring in both participants’ age and gender.
- The researchers hope their results will be used to improve understanding and acceptance of people with autistic tendencies and diagnosed autism. They suggest it is important for policymakers, clinicians, and educators, to be aware of such behaviours in order to create more autism-friendly environments.
- Bath psychology student Lois Player was also part of the research team for the study. This is the first time an undergraduate second year has co-authored a paper at Bath.