We May Have Been Wrong About Autism And Empathy

Individuals with autism are often stereotyped as being socially disengaged and lacking in empathy, which has increased stigma against the disorder.

Often, these misperceptions are linked to criminal cases, such as school shootings, committed by people with autism spectrum disorders.

But new research, published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that while social deficiencies are one aspect of autism, this stereotype is nothing more than a myth. In fact, individuals with autism are far from indifferent to the suffering of others.

When faced with moral dilemmas, they show an empathetic response similar to those without the condition, Dr. Indrajeet Patil, a social neuroscience researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, and a co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email.

“We found that autistic individuals did not in any way differ from healthy controls in terms of their moral decisions,” Patil said. “Indeed, they made moral decisions which indicated that they were on average more averse to causing harm to others, even if this produced better outcomes.”

For the small study, the researchers asked 17 adults with high-functioning autism and 17 adults without the condition to respond to a series of hypothetical moral dilemmas.

For instance, two of the scenarios asked them whether they would voluntarily take an action that would cause the death of one person in order to save many others.

In these scenarios, pure rationality dictates that you should do it in order to save as many lives as possible, while empathy prevents most people from choosing to kill someone.

The findings revealed that the individuals with autism showed strong emotional distress at the prospect of killing one to save many — even more so than people without the condition.

“Autistic traits are associated with increased self-oriented distress —> Read More