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The Feeling of Me Feeling for You: Interoception, Alexithymia and Empathy in Autism

Abstract

Following recent evidence for a link between interoception, emotion and empathy, we investigated relationships between these factors in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 26 adults with ASD and 26 healthy participants completed tasks measuring interoception, alexithymia and empathy. ASD participants with alexithymia demonstrated lower cognitive and affective empathy than ASD participants without alexithymia. ASD participants showed reduced interoceptive sensitivity (IS), and also reduced interoceptive awareness (IA). IA was correlated with empathy and alexithymia, but IS was related to neither. Alexithymia fulfilled a mediating role between IA and empathy. Our findings are suggestive of an alexithymic subgroup in ASD, with distinct interoceptive processing abilities, and have implications for diagnosis and interventions.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, as part of the doctoral study of Cari-lène Mul.

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CM and JA designed the experiment. SS conducted the diagnostic interviews. BH created experimental software. CM recruited participants, collected the data, and analysed the data. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Cari-lène Mul.

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Mul, Cl., Stagg, S.D., Herbelin, B. et al. The Feeling of Me Feeling for You: Interoception, Alexithymia and Empathy in Autism. J Autism Dev Disord 48, 2953–2967 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3564-3

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Interoception
  • Empathy
  • Alexithymia