Empathic disequilibrium in two different measures of empathy predicts autism traits in neurotypical population

Ido Shalev, Florina Uzefovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Features of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are normally distributed within the population, giving rise to the notion of the autism spectrum. One of the hallmark features of ASC is difficulties in social communication, which relies heavily on our ability to empathize with others. Empathy comprises of both cognitive (CE) and emotional (EE) components that, together, allow us to understand another's emotions and be affected by them appropriately, while maintaining a self-other distinction. Although CE and EE depend on distinct neural and developmental trajectories, it was suggested that the two empathic capacities can influence, balance, and regulate each other. Previous findings regarding the role of emotional and cognitive empathy in ASC have been mixed. Therefore, our study aimed to investigate whether the intra-personal empathy imbalance between the cognitive and emotional components, a measure we termed empathic disequilibrium (ED), can be associated with autism traits at the neurotypical range. Methods: Participants were 671 young-adults at the neurotypical range who self-reported their empathy, assessed using two highly validated questionnaires - the Interpersonal Reactivity Index and the Empathy Quotient, autism traits using the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, and the related traits, alexithymia, and systemizing. Results: Controlling for the total empathy score, greater ED was found to be positively correlated with autism traits. Specifically, autism traits were found to be elevated in groups of individuals with relatively higher EE than CE, underscoring their imbalance. Conclusions: Our study offers a novel perspective on the understanding of the social difficulties associated with autism tendencies in the general population and has potentially important clinical implications for understanding of ASC. We also propose a novel characterization of autism tendencies based on the imbalance between EE and CE, which we term ED, as opposed to examining EE and CE separately.

Original languageEnglish
Article number59
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 13 Jul 2020


  • Autism
  • Broad autism phenotype
  • Cognitive empathy
  • Emotional empathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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