Autism research on empathy and embarrassment

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The research

My critique of the research:

While this study is good because it makes a point of people with Autism actually having empathy, rather than the stereotype they don’t…

I do have an issue with this bit, “The unease within the autism group remained high even if the performer herself felt only mildly embarrassed.”

How are they measuring how embarrassed they felt? If it’s a self-reported answer then the conclusion that the autistic people read them wrong is potentially a mistake. The person may be so embarrassed that they deny how embarrassed they were out of embarrassment!

Couldn’t actually the truth be that maybe the autistic people accurately read them, and the person lied? And therefore actually autistic people are more accurate at reading people but without the social ability to do much about their ability to be so accurate?

9 thoughts on “Autism research on empathy and embarrassment

  1. inkbiotic June 30, 2019 / 7:23 pm

    I can’t vouch for the experiment (and it sounds like an assumption has been made), but my experience of autistic family members and friends is that they don’t tend to be that great at reading embarrassment. Although people are always more varied and complicated than given credit for, so that might just be my bias/misinterpretation.

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    • Matt Johnson June 30, 2019 / 8:42 pm

      In what way do they appear to not be great at reading embarrassment? You mean as in, don’t seem to notice it in others or over notice it, kind of like this study suggests, where they notice embarrasment in those that do feel embarrassed but also (according to their conclusion) think people who weren’t embarrased were embarrassed?

      From what I’ve noticed in the autistic communites I’ve come across there does seem to be a trend in different autistic people where either they feel embarrassed themselves a lot more than ‘normal’ and those that have no embarrasment. Almost like there seems to be no grey area for autistic people, either they are overloaded with embarrasment or they don’t seem to feel it much at all. I wonder if depending on how much embarrasment an autistic person feels, they see that in everyone else, what they feel or don’t feel. So basically the average ‘projection’ thing? “I’d be embarrassed in that situation so you must feel very embarrassed too?” I hadn’t thought of it like that.

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      • inkbiotic June 30, 2019 / 8:51 pm

        Yes, I think you’re right that there’s projection in there, which can be the overload-of-empathy thing too – after all empathy starts with projecting what we would feel onto others.
        The no grey-area is interesting too. With my brother, he can totally miss somebody’s emotion, but if it’s pointed out to him, he feels it intensely. So it is the signals of the emotion that he has trouble with, not understanding or empathising the emotion itself.
        Does that sound like it could be right? I’m only going on my observation and empathy here, which is also flawed of course.

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      • Matt Johnson June 30, 2019 / 8:54 pm

        Sounds aboout right. With me I feel like I see emotions that aren’t always there, rather than miss ones that are. If that makes sense. LOL. It probably doesn’t, now I type it out like that. Maybe I’m missing more than I realise. What happens with me I think is I will think a person feels something much more intensely than they claim they really do. And essentially drive myself and often times the other person crazy while I’m trying to understand they don’t really feel that bad.

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      • inkbiotic July 1, 2019 / 12:34 am

        That must be frustrating, but it’s true that often NT people don’t feel that strongly and our emotions pass soon enough. Plus half the time we don’t pay that much attention to what anyone else is feeling anyway. We’re lazy!

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    • Matt Johnson June 30, 2019 / 8:47 pm

      People often see autism an ‘under reading’ of others or lack or reading rather, But i think for some it’s more of an overreading which in the end has the same result, not reading the social cues and other things properly.

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      • inkbiotic June 30, 2019 / 8:53 pm

        It makes total sense that if someone is overloaded with any sensation, they would shut down in order to protect themselves. How is it for you?

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      • Matt Johnson June 30, 2019 / 9:00 pm

        I shut down. Sometimes go non verbal (selective mute) or answer/speak in very quiet not very audiable ‘grunts’ go wooden and stiff in my actions or if i don’t shut down have a meltdown. Meltdowns are more dangerous though, as it can lead to self harm.

        If someone is angry I will think they’re much more angry than they say they are, if someone is sad, I’ll think they’re sadder than they say they are etc. Someone so much as slightly changes a routine I’ve gotten used to them doing, even subtle routines, mannerisms it drives me crazy. LOL

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      • inkbiotic July 1, 2019 / 12:36 am

        Well it makes sense that you rely on different cues such as routine or familiar cues that you’ve learned to recognise. Unfortunately the rest of us are quite haphazard, so that stuff changes all the time – not helpful, I know!

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