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Publication Detail
Absence of Embodied Empathy During Pain Observation in Asperger Syndrome
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Minio-Paluello I, Baron-Cohen S, Avenanti A, Walsh V, Aglioti SM
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    55, 62
  • Journal:
    Biological Psychiatry
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Print ISSN:
Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental condition within the autism spectrum conditions (ASC) characterized by specific difficulties in communication, social interaction and empathy which is essential for sharing and understanding others' feelings and emotions. Although reduced empathy is considered a core feature of ASC, neurophysiological evidence of empathic deficits before and below mentalizing and perspective taking is meager. We explored whether people with AS differ from neurotypical controls in their empathic cortico-spinal response to the observation of others' pain and the modulatory role played by phenomenal experience of observed pain and personality traits. Sixteen right-handed men with AS (age: 28.0 ± 7.2 yrs) and twenty Neurotypical Controls (age: 25.3 ± 6.7 yrs) age, gender and IQ matched, underwent single-pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation during the observation of painful and non painful stimuli affecting another individual. When observing other's pain, participants with AS, in contrast to neurotypical controls, did not show any amplitude reduction of MEPs recorded from the muscle vicariously affected by pain, nor did their neurophysiological response correlate with imagined pain sensory qualities. Participants with AS instead, represented others' pain in relation to the self-oriented arousal experienced while watching pain videos.Finding no embodiment of others' pain provides neurophysiological evidence for reduced empathic resonance in people with AS and indicates that their empathic difficulties do not only involve cognitive dimensions but also sensorimotor resonance with others. We suggest that absence of embodied empathy may be linked to changes at very basic levels of neural processing.
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