Emotional contagion for pain is intact in autism spectrum disorders

Hadjikhani, N. et al. (2014) Emotional contagion for pain is intact in autism spectrum disorders. Translational Psychiatry, 4(1), e343. (doi: 10.1038/tp.2013.113) (PMID:24424389) (PMCID:PMC3905223)

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Perceiving others in pain generally leads to empathic concern, consisting of both emotional and cognitive processes. Empathydeficits have been considered as an element contributing to social difficulties in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and short video clips of facial expressions of people experiencing pain toexamine the neural substrates underlying the spontaneous empathic response to pain in autism. Thirty-eight adolescents andadults of normal intelligence diagnosed with ASD and 35 matched controls participated in the study. In contrast to generalassumptions, we found no significant differences in brain activation between ASD individuals and controls during the perception ofpain experienced by others. Both groups showed similar levels of activation in areas associated with pain sharing, evidencing thepresence of emotional empathy and emotional contagion in participants with autism as well as in controls. Differences betweengroups could be observed at a more liberal statistical threshold, and revealed increased activations in areas involved in cognitivereappraisal in ASD participants compared with controls. Scores of emotional empathy were positively correlated with brainactivation in areas involved in embodiment of pain in ASD group only. Ourfindings show that simulation mechanisms involved inemotional empathy are preserved in high-functioning individuals with autism, and suggest that increased reappraisal may have arole in their apparent lack of caring behavior.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Gillberg, Professor Christopher
Authors: Hadjikhani, N., Zürcher, N.R., Rogier, O., Hippolyte, L., Lemonnier, E., Ruest, T., Ward, N., Lassalle, A., Gillberg, N., Billstedt, E., Helles, A., Gillberg, C., Solomon, P., Prkachin, K.M., and Gillberg, C.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Journal Name:Translational Psychiatry
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited
First Published:First published in Translational Psychiatry 4:e343
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

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