The Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis of Autism: A Theoretical Aproach to Cognitive and Emotional Empathy in Autistic Development
There has been a widely held belief that people with autism spectrum disorders lack empathy. This article examines the empathy imbalance hypothesis (EIH) of autism. According to this account, people with autism have a deficit of cognitive empathy but a surfeit of emotional empathy. The behavioral characteristics of autism might be generated by this imbalance and a susceptibility to empathic overarousal. The EIH builds on the theory of mind account and provides an alternative to the extreme-male-brain theory of autism. Empathy surfeit is a recurrent theme in autistic narratives, and empirical evidence for the EIH is growing. A modification of the pictorial emotional Stroop paradigm could facilitate an experimental test of the EIH.