An investigation of behavioural and self-reported cognitive empathy deficits in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and adolescents with behavioural difficulties

Sara P. Vilas, Renate Reniers, Amanda Ludlow

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Abstract

Deficits in empathy have been considered hallmarks in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) but are also considered to underlie antisocial behaviour associated with individuals with callous unemotional traits (CU). Research has suggested that individuals with autism spectrum disorders show more difficulties with cognitive empathy, and that individuals diagnosed with behaviours difficulties, characterised by CU traits and antisocial behaviour, demonstrate low affective empathy. In the current manuscript we present findings of two studies. The first study describes the validation of a new stimulus set developed for the empathic accuracy task, focused on its cognitive component. The second study compares the performance of 27 adolescents with ASD, 27 age matched typically developing adolescents and 17 adolescents with behavioural difficulties on the empathic accuracy task and a self-report measure of empathy. While, no differences were observed between the three groups across the empathy accuracy task, the adolescents with ASD and CD showed deficits in their cognitive empathy across the self-report measure. Adolescents with ASD showed lower scores in particularly their perspective taking abilities, whereas the adolescences with behavioural difficulties showed more difficulties with their online simulation. No differences in self-reported affective empathy across the three groups were observed. Clinical implications of the findings are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number717877
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2021

Keywords

  • autism spectrum disorders
  • behavioural difficulties
  • callous-unemotional traits
  • cognitive empathy
  • empathic accuracy
  • perspective taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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