Emotional contagion for pain is intact in autism spectrum disorders
Translational Psychiatry (2014) 4, e343
N Hadjikhani, et al.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have impaired social understanding, and seemingly reduced reactions to others’ emotions, which may be interpreted as lack of empathetic concern.
Empathy can be defined as ‘the ability to form an embodied representation of another’s emotional state, while at the same time being aware of the causal mechanism that induced the emotional state in the other’.
Empathy is a multicomponent process, consisting mainly of experience sharing and mental state attribution.
The evolutionary precursor of empathy is emotional contagion, a phylogenetically old phenomenon, even observable in distressed mice.
Emotional contagion is a precursor of emotional empathy, whereby embodiment entails the forming of a representation of the other person’s feelings, and thereby sharing of their experience.
In the observer, this ‘perception-action’ coupling mechanism elicits the activation of the same neural networks as in the person experiencing the emotional state.