ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (1): 59-66.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2017.00059

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Empathy in individuals with autism spectrum disorder: Symptoms, theories and neural mechanisms

MENG Jing1; SHEN Lin2   

  1. (1 School of Education,Chongqing Normal University, Chongqing 401331, China) (2 School of Mathematical Sciences, Chongqing Normal University, Chongqing 401331, China)
  • Received:2016-03-29 Online:2017-01-15 Published:2017-01-15
  • Contact: SHEN Lin, E-mail:


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as a neural-developmental disorder, has been suggested to be associated with empathic deficits, and several studies have even proposed that lack of empathy was a hallmark in individuals with ASD. Nevertheless, behavioral studies are only slightly more likely to observe empathic deficits to identify basic and complex emotions in individuals with ASD, comparing with normal individuals. Increasing agreement has been made on the specific difficulties for the individuals with ASD to integrate information, for instance when vocal, facial, bodily and situational cues are presented simultaneously. Moreover, previous findings showed more severe impairments in implicit than explicit processing of empathic responses in individuals with ASD. Numerous theories, e.g., Mind-Blindness Hypothesis, Extreme-Male-Brain Theory, Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis, and The self to other model of empathy, as well as neuromechanisms include Broken-Mirror Theory and Social Brain Theory, have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanisms underlying impairments of empathy in individuals with ASD. Although these theories delineate cognitive neural model of empathy that could be used to explain deficits in individuals of ASD, future studies should adopt more rigorous experiment paradigms to verify the validity of these theoretical models.

Key words: autism spectrum disorders, empathy, cognitive and neural mechanisms