Study: Aspies don’t lack empathy; they have too much

Theory claims that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much

A couple of quotes:

“Children are asked to watch two puppets, Sally and Anne. Sally takes a marble and places it in a basket, then leaves the stage. While she’s gone, Anne takes the marble out and puts it in a box. The children are then asked: Where will Sally look first for her marble when she returns?

Most 4-year-olds know Sally didn’t see Anne move the marble, so they get it right. By 10 or 11, children with developmental disabilities who have verbal IQs equivalent to 3-year-olds also get it right. But 80 per cent of autistic children age 10 to 11 guess that Sally will look in the box, because they know that’s where the marble is and they don’t realize other people don’t share all of their knowledge.”

“When it comes to not understanding the inner state of minds too different from our own, most people also do a lousy job, Schwarz says. “But the non-autistic majority gets a free pass because, if they assume that the other person’s mind works like their own, they have a much better chance of being right.” ”

You know, I’ve been saying that. I’ve been saying.

3 thoughts on “Study: Aspies don’t lack empathy; they have too much

  1. “…But 80 per cent of autistic children age 10 to 11 guess that Sally will look in the box…”

    I thought I understood Aspie people and this post shows me very clearly I do not. I can’t even comprehend how they make the mistake. It’s a very good post if you wanted to show people Aspie’s process information differently. I thought Aspie’s problems were mostly related to not understanding facial cues and how they related to language.


    • My impression is that Aspies lack the necessary mirror neurons to translate facial expressions into emotions. That is, normals see an expression, and their brains auto-translate that into an emotion that they physically feel. Aspies see an expression, and have to think to themselves, “Okay, the eyes are looking away, that indicates… disinterest? Oh, the brow just furrowed; that is an angry look.” But I could be wrong; mirror neurons strike me as still a fuzzy concept.

      Personal experience suggests that Aspie kids don’t really recognize that other humans exist separately from themselves. They believe that all people have the same experiences/memories/desires. Aspie kids can be bad at certain kinds of abstract thinking/imagining, and the test requires imagining what is going on in the puppet’s mind.

      None of which is to say that they lack empathy; they often care deeply about others.

      Grown up Aspies have generally figured this out and know that other people don’t have the same experiences as themselves.


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