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The Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis of Autism: A Theoretical Approach to Cognitive and Emotional Empathy in Autistic Development

Abstract

There has been a widely held belief that people with autism spectrum disorders lack empathy. This article examines the empathy imbalance hypothesis (EIH) of autism. According to this account, people with autism have a deficit of cognitive empathy but a surfeit of emotional empathy. The behavioral characteristics of autism might be generated by this imbalance and a susceptibility to empathic overarousal. The EIH builds on the theory of mind account and provides an alternative to the extreme-male-brain theory of autism. Empathy surfeit is a recurrent theme in autistic narratives, and empirical evidence for the EIH is growing. A modification of the pictorial emotional Stroop paradigm could facilitate an experimental test of the EIH.

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Smith, A. The Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis of Autism: A Theoretical Approach to Cognitive and Emotional Empathy in Autistic Development. Psychol Rec 59, 273–294 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03395663

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