The valence-specific empathy imbalance hypothesis of autism: The role of autistic traits, alexithymia, emotion dysregulation, and gender differences

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Abstract

Individuals exhibiting pronounced autistic traits (e.g., social differences and specialised interests) may struggle with cognitive empathy (i.e., the ability to infer others' emotions), although the relationship with affective empathy (i.e., the ability to share others' emotions) is less clear in that higher levels of autistic traits may be linked with increased affective empathy for negative emotions but reduced affective empathy for positive emotions. The current study investigates this empathy profile and whether alexithymia and emotion dysregulation help to explain it. Results from 322 university students' questionnaire responses suggested that more pronounced autistic traits were linked to reduced cognitive empathy and affective empathy for positive emotions but increased affective empathy for negative emotions. Alexithymia and emotion dysregulation helped to explain the reduced cognitive empathy and the increased affective empathy for negative emotions. However, neither explained the reduced affective empathy for positive emotions. Finally, gender-moderated relationships suggest different empathy presentations across males and females. The results support the valence-specific empathy imbalance hypothesis of autism and highlight the critical roles of co-occurring alexithymia and emotion dysregulation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number112493
Number of pages7
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Volume218
Early online dateNov 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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