Monthly Archives: June 2013

Eye Test of Empathy

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This is just interesting. A person’s ability to “read” eye expressions may be correlated with their capacity for empathy, a theory which has interesting implications for education and knowledge of cognitive differences. University of Cambridge professor Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen suggests a person with autism cannot recognize a feeling on the face of another person if they have not experienced it themselves. I would suggest, strictly from personal observations, that a person with autism may not be aware of an emotion in themselves or others, which is distinctly different from having never experienced it themselves. I choose that wording carefully as it is a subtle difference with significant implications for understanding and accepting the research. In my observations, a person with autism may have experienced the emotion, however lack the ability to respond. One valuable result of Baron-Cohen’s work is the idea that training in recognizing and responding to facial expressions can lead to better outcomes for people with autism.

Try the 5-min test to determine how well you read eye expressions.  Baron-Cohen’s research findings appear in the Journal of Child Psychology, 2001.

The presence of empathy cannot be teased out with a 5-minute test. Empathy is a complex concept and correlating cognitive differences by gender or disability is potentially egregious. If you read the results of the larger sample, the research provides an interesting indicator of norms among men and women (women tend to do better on the test) and glimpse into the effects of cognitive differences on social responses in people with autism. So little is known, but with the increase of autism prevalence and research we hope to gain knowledge that will lead to understanding.

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