ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

心理学报 ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (9): 1501-1517.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.01501

• 研究报告 • 上一篇    下一篇


张文芸1,2, 卓诗维1, 郑倩倩1, 关颖琳1, 彭微微1()   

  1. 1深圳大学心理学院, 深圳 518060
    2深圳市光明区楼村小学, 深圳 518106
  • 收稿日期:2022-08-23 发布日期:2023-06-09 出版日期:2023-09-25
  • 通讯作者: 彭微微
  • 基金资助:

Autistic traits influence pain empathy: The mediation role of pain-related negative emotion and cognition

ZHANG Wenyun1,2, ZHUO Shiwei1, ZHENG Qianqian1, GUAN Yinglin1, PENG Weiwei1()   

  1. 1School of Psychology, Shenzhen University, Nanshan District, Shenzhen 518060, China
    2LouCun Primary school, Guangming District, Shenzhen 518106, China
  • Received:2022-08-23 Online:2023-06-09 Published:2023-09-25
  • Contact: PENG Weiwei


已有研究提示自闭症个体的疼痛共情缺陷可能源于自身疼痛的异常。鉴于高自闭特质与自闭症的相似性, 本研究分别通过实验范式和问卷调查评估了状态和特质共情, 旨在刻画自闭特质、自身疼痛与共情之间的联系。在假双人疼痛共情范式中, 高自闭特质个体在目睹他人接受疼痛时P2响应更强, 不愉悦度评分更高, 且部分源于对疼痛的高恐惧水平。问卷调查结果发现, 自闭特质水平越高, 在共情特质量表的观点采择维度得分越低, 而个人痛苦维度得分越高, 其中疼痛恐惧和灾难化中介了自闭特质与个人痛苦之间的联系。因此, 高自闭特质个体表现出高水平的状态和特质情绪共情, 且部分源于对疼痛存在更为负面的情绪和认知。这支持从自身疼痛异常的角度去理解高自闭特质和自闭症群体的共情等社会功能障碍, 为临床治疗和干预提供了潜在的靶点。

关键词: 自闭特质, 疼痛共情, 疼痛恐惧, 疼痛灾难化, 事件相关电位


Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typically characterized by impaired social interactions that are thought to be related to deficits in empathy. While cognitive empathy deficit in ASD is widely recognized, it remains controversial whether individuals with ASD have a deficiency in emotional empathy. According to the shared representation theory, psychological and neuronal mechanisms involved in the personal experience of an emotional or somatosensory state are also engaged while empathizing with other individuals in those states. It suggests that the deficits of empathy seen in the ASD population could arise from the atypical experience of first-hand pain. Mild, subclinical forms of the characteristics associated with ASD are referred to as autistic traits. Individuals with high autistic traits exhibit sensory, emotional, and social behaviors similar to those with ASD. Given the relationship between pain empathy and first-hand pain as well as the similarity between autistic traits and ASD, the present study tested the hypothesis that autistic traits in the general population would influence pain empathic responses, which could be contributed by first-hand pain-related profiles.

In Experiment 1, we adopted an ecological pain empathy paradigm and compared behavioral and neural activity between individuals with high scores on the Autism-Spectrum Quotient Test (HAQ, with high autistic traits) and those with low scores (LAQ, with low autistic traits). During the pain empathy paradigm, the participants either perceived the painful electrical stimuli themselves or witnessed the delivery of painful electrical stimuli to their partners in certain and uncertain contexts. When perceiving pain themselves, behavioral and brain responses were comparable between HAQ and LAQ groups. When witnessing others in pain, participants in the HAQ group had greater amplitudes of the P2 component on the event-related potentials and reported higher ratings of unpleasantness than those in the LAQ group. The between-group differences in the behavioral and neural responses related to pain empathy were not moderated by certainty of the context (certain or uncertain). Mediation analysis further revealed that the between-group differences in the unpleasantness elicited by witnessing others’ pain could be contributed by the greater fear of pain while anticipating the upcoming painful stimuli.

In Experiment 2, the relationship among autistic traits, pain-related profiles, and trait empathy was assessed in randomly recruited participants. We found that autistic trait levels were negatively correlated with scores on the perspective-taking subscale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index and positively correlated with the personal distress subscale. Importantly, pain-related fear and pain catastrophizing mediated the link between autistic traits and personal distress.

Data from Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated that autistic traits heighten emotional empathy, which can be explained by the negative emotion and cognition toward pain. Given the similarities between individuals with high autistic traits and ASD, this finding may help to expand the biological mechanisms underlying ASD, such as explaining empathy deficits or other social difficulties seen in the ASD from the perspective of atypical pain-related profiles. Future studies should combine multiple modalities of painful stimulations and multidimensional pain assessments to comprehensively characterize pain-related profiles among individuals with high autistic traits or ASD, and establish linkage between pain-related profiles and empathy or social deficits. This understanding has the potential to provide targets for clinical interventions and treatments of ASD.

Key words: autistic traits, pain empathy, pain-related fear, pain catastrophizing, event-related potentials