Autistic adults’ perspectives on appropriate empathic responses to others’ emotions.

Neil Brewer, Marie Antonia Georgopoulos, Carmen A. Lucas, Robyn L. Young

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Abstract

Although the ability of autistic adults to recognize others' emotions has been extensively studied, less attention has been given to how they respond to these emotions. We examined two aspects of autistic and non-autistic adults' responsiveness to the emotional expressions of non-autistic actors: their perspectives on the appropriate way of responding to others' emotions and their awareness of others' perceptions of the likely appropriateness of such responses. Autistic (N = 63) and non-autistic (N = 67) adult samples viewed videos of 74 dyadic social interactions displaying different examples of 12 emotions expressed by one actor in response to the behavior of the other. After each video, participants (a) nominated the emotion expressed by the first actor, (b) offered their perspective on what would constitute an appropriate empathic response by the second actor, and (c) indicated their confidence in that response. Although the autistic group provided fewer appropriate empathic responses—operationalized via a panel's interpretations of normative responses—than the non-autistic group, within-group variability was marked, and the effect was weak and largely confined to basic emotions. Autistic individuals were, however, considerably less confident in their responses. Examination of the relationships between confidence in and the appropriateness of empathic responses provided no indication in either group of reliable discrimination of appropriate from inappropriate empathic responses or finely tuned metacognitive awareness of variations in appropriateness. In sum, autistic adults' perspectives on the appropriate empathic reactions to non-autistic adults' emotions were not unilaterally or markedly different to those of non-autistic adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1573-1585
Number of pages13
JournalAutism Research
Volume16
Issue number8
Early online date22 Jun 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

Keywords

  • autistic adults
  • confidence
  • emotion recognition
  • empathy
  • self-awareness

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