Mind-Blindness, Theory of Mind, and Fiction

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07 Dec 2015, 6:02 pm

mori_pastel wrote:
(NOTES: For the TL;DR version, skip to the numbered questions at the bottom and then use my giant hunk of text as a reference if needed. In text block, key text is presented in bold print for easy reading.)

I'm a self-diagnosed Aspie, and as such I am constantly second-guessing myself with hopes of arriving at a more definitive answer than "maybe I have it, maybe I don't." Asperger’s fits me better than anything I’ve come across, including every differential diagnosis that could possibly exist to Asperger’s. I hand-flap, I fail “reading the mind in the eyes” tests, I struggle in social situations in a way that can’t be contributed to social anxiety, I have sensitivities to lights and food textures, I’m incredibly resistant to changes in my routine and environment, etc., etc. But that said, it’s not a perfect fit. There are some “typical Aspie” traits that don’t apply to me. And the ill-fitting criteria I’m obsessing over today is fiction.

I am an avid reader of fiction. While I’m aware that there is some debate on this topic, that’s one of the questions you frequently see on tests like the AQ test. And when you do hear about things Aspies “typically” read, its sci-fi or historical fiction, something than connects back to a “typical” special interest. For awhile now, I’ve taken that criteria (or should I say characteristic?) at face value, but today I started wondering just what is it about fiction that Aspies aren’t supposed to like or have trouble with?

The most obvious answer would be to say that it comes from our difficulties understanding how other people think, but where does that difficulty stem? To the best of my knowledge, it is supposed to be only the difficulties in reading other people’s non-verbal communications and literal interpretations of figurative language. In other words, it theoretically isn’t that Aspies are incapable of understanding others, but that we’re not “hearing” all they’re “saying” which leads to the misunderstanding.

You could also point to the fact that Aspies tend to like socializing and the company of others in much smaller quantities than neurotypicals, but I don’ think this is a particularly valid characteristic when looking at fiction. If this were the root of the problem, than it would make more sense for Aspies to be drawn to fiction, not less. A book can substitute human relationships without making the same demands that people place on us. (In a sense, of course. I’m sure therapists have several reasons why books don’t make good substitutes for people.) That’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to fiction. You can put down a book without it complaining that you’re neglecting it. A book doesn’t expect you to say hello to it every time you pick it up and it doesn’t expect you to buy it thoughtful gifts on its birthday. It doesn’t need you to consol it when it’s feeling bad. Yet at the same time books can provide us with the emotional experiences that human connection is all about. So why are Aspies rumored to hate fiction?

Does the answer lie in the elusive, indefinable empathy? Do Aspies pick up a work of fiction and simply fail to understand it? I find this answer both hard to believe and hard to reject. Firstly, how exactly impaired is empathy said to be in Aspies? Knowing what little I do of psychology, I find it impossible to believe that Aspies are simply incapable of empathy, an argument I’ve also seen from several others. To lack empathy completely is to be an individual with antisocial personality disorder.
If I ignore the issues previously stated and make an attempt to consider the idea, we get to the reasons why I find the possibility hard to reject. Not being a diagnosed Aspie, I can’t say for certain what Aspies think or feel. Is a person with Asperger’s simply incapable of reading a work of fiction and understanding it? I’m not asking if they pick up the latest romance novel and understand all the little nuances or comprehend all the subtilities displayed in great works of literature, I’m asking if you can pick up a Goosebumps book or an Anne Rice novel or just any old piece of regular fiction you could pick up at a local bookstore and simply fail to comprehend the interactions between the characters on a very basic level. To me, that is simply incomprehensible. But the thing of it is, for Aspies to have a general distaste for fictional works, it would have to be not because they personally disliked it but because they had actual difficulties with it, and if you take out mind-blindness and the sensory issues, the only difficulty that could present would be one in which the reader simply failed to comprehend. When you read a book, you don’t have to be good at “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.” To say the right thing to an upset friend, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and realize what would comfort them best. When you’re reading a book, you don’t have to make that intuitive connection. Especially not with modern literature. Today’s literature is so focused on the psychological aspects of characterization (for instance, today our villains were all horribly abused and have a great reason to be horrible people, while only a couple of centuries ago it was just enough to say that the wicked witch was wicked; nobody cared why) that you don’t have to be good at putting yourself in the character’s shoes because all of the character’s inner workings are laid out for you on the page. You don’t have to make any intuitive leaps because all of the character’s emotional workings are explained in detail. So where exactly is it that Aspies struggle?

The final point (which I admit seems most likely), is simply that Aspies are more “male-brained” or “left-brained” than your average neurotypical. After all, didn’t Hans Asperger first describe Aspies as “extreme maleness”? When you take the average neurotypical male (note: I’m speaking from an American perspective), they will probably not read even a single fiction book a year. And when they do read, they’re more likely to read books that are very action-packed, such as mystery and thriller novels. On the more intellectual end, you see more sci-fi readers. It’s not until you take an “intellectual” type of man that you’d typically see him reading any sort of general fiction on a regular basis. Where exactly does this stem from? I think that chances are, if we could find the answer to this, we could find the root of why Aspies are said to hate fiction.

To get more into this last point, I’d like to share something I found after a Google search that brought up some really good points for me, which you can find here:

Quote:
I think 'mind blindness' is misunderstood a little. Since our minds work differently than non-Aspergers people we have a hard time understanding them, just as they have a hard time understanding us. If there were more of us and less of you, we could describe you as mind blind for not understanding us. You assume others think like you and you are right. Before I knew I was Aspergers I would say things that I assumed others were thinking as well, such as 'this group of people is too big, I can't remember everyones' name and keep track of everyone, it is too overwhelming', assuming others would feel that way too--if it's too big to me, it must be so to everyone else. But others would get a puzzled look on their face and say they didn't think it was too big. (Incidentally, if non-Aspergers were in the minority we would say they have a remarkable skill in social relations). Non-verbal cues that you have from childhood, from other children and adults and in the rules and systems of the world, teach you in ways that you take for granted, that you learn/absorb automatically that we don't 'get'--it takes us actual learning and focusing and analysis to learn. We're also described as not having empathy, but this is the same thing as with mind blindness, empathy must be learned by everyone, you just get the benefit of most others and a world geared toward you, so that empathy is picked up by you without your being aware of learning it. There have been several studies that show that empathy must be learned, it is not automatic. As an example, I have frail health and I have found that super healthy people cannot have empathy for me. I could say they are unkind or deliberately being difficult, but they literally don't understand poor health so they can't be empathetic. Whether or not they are sympathetic or compassionate depends on whether or not they are humble and can concede there is another understanding then the one they have and their willingness to care, but the actual empathy is not there. I try to appear well all the time as I try to appear socially adept and non-Aspergers, to relieve them of the burden of having to deal with an empathy or understanding of something that doesn't come easily to them.

In a good book, the writer is usually skilled at characterization, helping the readers to get into the mind of the main character(s) and to a lesser extent, other characters. Often I'll ask my non-Aspergers husband to explain how he feels or understands something. Often he can't, he says, 'I don't know, it just is.' He is not a writer (and never would be!). Alas, the general public isn't skilled in the ways writers are, including descriptions and the use of illustrations, which is very instrumental in teaching something that is hard to understand in the way that can be understood by the person you're teaching.

Our love of science fiction is usually due the new ideas, imagination and philosophy expressed. Science fiction, besides having great imaginary worlds and people contained therein which is just plain fun, is full of allegory and ideas that are mind expanding. Sometimes questions are raised and by taking you outside the real world you can look objectively at issues, many philosophical. Sometimes it is a fight between good and evil and since many Aspergers have strong sense of justice, this appeals to us. Many non-Aspergers want stories about real life but we have to live real life why read about it? We care about people and their problems but don't want to read stories that go on and on about the problems. We would rather sympathise, then try to come up with a solutions (the male brain). I've been told by several people that I am better than the average person at perceiving intentions. I prefer science fiction with a good character (hero) that I can root for, which is the best of both.


So, here’s the TL;DR version:

1. Where do you think the rumor that Aspies hate reading stems from: difficulties tolerating as much socialization as NTs, are Aspies simply incapable of understanding fiction books because of a lack of empathy, or is this rumor simply the end result of Aspies being more “male-brained”/”left brain” than the average neurotypical? Why?

2. If you are a diagnosed Aspie, do you have difficulties understanding things like motivation in works of fiction? Where do you think this trouble stems from? What kind of things strike you as difficult or frustrating? (Note: A good example would NOT be something you read in your English class; those books are designed to be challenging reads. A good example would be something one of your friends/siblings/peers would pick up and read for fun.)

3. [b]In general, what are your thoughts on empathy and Asperger’s? How would you define empathy? Do you think Aspies lack empathy?
What do you think of the author’s opinion in the quote provided that NTs seem to lack empathy just as much as Aspies do, that we both have problems relating to one another, and that Aspies are only labeled empathetically challenged because we can’t relate to the majority of people (NTs)?[/b]

Finally, just wanted to thank everyone who put up with this super-long post. Asperger’s has become something of my special interest for the past six months, and I still feel like there’s just so much I don’t understand. I would really like to move forward soon and find some professional certainty, but thank you all for putting up with my anxious doubts in the meantime. : )



Must be a work of great fiction or just pure genius to post all that, some have fallen short of the empathy over the years another Mark Anthony trait I guess.


Goosebumps was something I used to read when I was twelve years old. I could establish the main differences between characters, and I still enjoy non fictional detail with the description intact.
I’m going to take on more reading as I get older as I’m bound to it.
You don’t need to be a scientist or historian to have traits of any ASD, like you I’m self diagnosed and hope to discuss this in further detail sometime.

If you've left, then its a shame, W.P could do with some more women and maybe men who can attribute a focus by contributing more of their own sensory perceptive natures.

Most of these discussions have left because of long explanations which I can discuss at length but have failed to find the latest bookworm to 'shop' with. All part of the aging process.

Putting the reality of these traits into words, defines a persons human ability to read and write, most aspies use a grid map or person, but human experiences balances the mind of reason and view.

Actually, this is starting to turn into the late late show for church goers, but defining a positive outcome comes from the person. Not persons.. 8) I've used up my current thinking time.



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08 Dec 2015, 8:22 am

mori_pastel wrote:
1. Where do you think the rumor that Aspies hate reading stems from: difficulties tolerating as much socialization as NTs, are Aspies simply incapable of understanding fiction books because of a lack of empathy, or is this rumor simply the end result of Aspies being more “male-brained”/”left brain” than the average neurotypical? Why?


It's supposed to be that the character's motivation and actions make less sense and are less interesting, so Aspies are supposed to prefer books that are less character-driven. Plus, some Aspies are described as being so literal that anything fictional is confusing because it's not real. It may be true for a subset of the spectrum, especially for young children.

mori_pastel wrote:
2. If you are a diagnosed Aspie, do you have difficulties understanding things like motivation in works of fiction? Where do you think this trouble stems from? What kind of things strike you as difficult or frustrating? (Note: A good example would NOT be something you read in your English class; those books are designed to be challenging reads. A good example would be something one of your friends/siblings/peers would pick up and read for fun.)


Not really. I do have a bit more trouble understanding some characters' motivation than others do, but not enough to seriously impact my ability to follow the story. In most cases, fictional characters are easier to understand than real people, because I can see their thoughts and the authors explicitly describe the relevant nonverbal cues.

Live action movies and TV shows are a lot tougher than books to understand. Difficulty reading facial expressions combined with prosopagnosia can make some shows pretty much unwatchable for me.

I do tend to prefer sci fi and fantasy, but I think it's more because I like characters who aren't normal humans. The realistic fiction I tend to enjoy most features people with disabilities or weird psychological quirks.

mori_pastel wrote:
3. In general, what are your thoughts on empathy and Asperger’s? How would you define empathy? Do you think Aspies lack empathy? What do you think of the author’s opinion in the quote provided that NTs seem to lack empathy just as much as Aspies do, that we both have problems relating to one another, and that Aspies are only labeled empathetically challenged because we can’t relate to the majority of people (NTs)?


I think empathy is the wrong word for it. They should only use empathy to describe an emotional reaction, not some vaguely-related cognitive abilities as well.

I think some Aspies are only impaired at understanding NTs and not impaired with other Aspies. (I fall into that category myself.) If your only social issues are linked to nonverbal cues or situations where others react differently from how you'd react, then you'd do just fine interacting with someone like you. But other Aspies show delays in things like understanding that other people don't know what they know, which can make interacting with a similarly-impaired person harder than interacting with an NT. (Ever seen two 3 year olds having a conversation?)

I don't know what makes the difference between these two categories. It's not clearly linked to cognitive ability, since I've met cognitively delayed autistics who relate more easily to autistics than NTs. (I even saw two LFA kids engaged in a nonverbal back-and-forth interaction over a piano, and both of them seemed to understand the other even though their body language was extremely atypical.) Meanwhile, I know an autistic adult who I'd guess has normal or mildly impaired IQ, but who has a lot of trouble reading my social cues even though I'm also autistic.

It might be a difference in the specific form of social impairment, or it might be due to early experiences. Deaf of Deaf kids have normal social skills while Deaf kids with hearing parents have delays in social skills, especially if they aren't exposed to sign early enough. So maybe autistics who have an autistic or BAP parent do better at interacting with other autistics because their earliest experiences with interaction were with someone they could learn to relate to easily. (I know I have an autistic Dad and a BAP Mom, and I'm doing a lot better than similar kids I've met with NT parents.) However, it would be tough to separate out the effects of early experience from the effects of different etiology, because autistics with BAP/autistic parents would usually have the polygenetic form of autism while autistics with two NT parents would more often have single gene etiologies or non-genetic etiologies. However, you could look at differences in functioning among autistics with known etiology - for example, do Fragile X children with full-mutation mothers differ from Fragile X children with premutation mothers?



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08 Dec 2015, 8:32 am

OJani wrote:
About empathy. This question still hits me with puzzled-mind. Though I had been thinking about it, I still lack comprehension. I'm sure I can feel empathy in some cases, when the situation is simple, e.g. a child cries in my presence. On cognitive levels, it is much more difficult to me. One example for a strange and appalling behaviour of mine I experienced in my life was "the lack of empathy" when my grandmother died after a series of suffering. I felt relieved when I was supposed to show pain...


That's normal. When a loved one is dying slowly, many people get their grieving done while the person is still alive and therefore don't grieve much when they finally die. And since she was suffering, feeling relief that she's no longer suffering is an empathetic reaction. Meanwhile, other family members may have been in denial, thinking to themselves that she would get better rather than die, and so they didn't start grieving until the actual death.

Were you criticized for not grieving then? Keep in mind that a person in emotional pain can sometimes be irrational and cruel because their own pain impedes their ability to see someone else's perspective.



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08 Dec 2015, 12:26 pm

mori_pastel wrote:
I'm a self-diagnosed Aspie, and as such I am constantly second-guessing myself with hopes of arriving at a more definitive answer than "maybe I have it, maybe I don't." Asperger’s fits me better than anything I’ve come across, including every differential diagnosis that could possibly exist to Asperger’s.

I have sensitivities to lights and food textures, I’m incredibly resistant to changes in my routine and environment, etc., etc. But that said, it’s not a perfect fit. tend to like socializing and the company of others in much smaller quantities than neurotypicals, but I don’ think this is a particularly valid characteristic when looking at fiction. If this were the root of the problem, than it would make more sense for Aspies to be drawn to fiction, not less. A book can substitute human relationships without making the same demands that people place on us.


(note: I’m speaking from an American perspective),. On the more intellectual end, you see more sci-fi readers. It’s not until you take an “intellectual” type of man that you’d typically see him reading any sort of general fiction on a regular basis. Where exactly does this stem from? I think that chances are, if we could find the answer to this, we could find the root of why Aspies are said to hate fiction.



Quote:
I think 'mind blindness' is misunderstood a little. Since our minds work differently than non-Aspergers (Incidentally, if non-Aspergers were in the minority we would say they have a remarkable skill in social relations). Non-verbal cues that you have from childhood, from other children and adults and in the rules and systems of the world, teach you in ways that you take for granted, that you learn.There have been several studies that show that empathy must be learned, it is not automatic. As an example, I have frail health and I have found that super healthy people cannot have empathy for me. I could say they are unkind or deliberately being difficult, but they literally don't understand poor health so they can't be empathetic. Whether or not they are sympathetic or compassionate depends on whether or not they are humble and can concede there is another understanding then the one they have and their willingness to care, but the actual empathy is not there. I try to appear well all the time as I try to appear socially adept and non-Aspergers, to relieve them of the burden of having to deal with an empathy or understanding of something that doesn't come easily to them.



Our love of science fiction is usually due the new ideas, imagination and philosophy expressed. Science fiction, besides having great imaginary worlds and people contained therein which is just plain fun, is full of allegory and ideas that are mind expanding. Sometimes questions are raised and by taking you outside the real world you can look objectively at issues, many philosophical. Sometimes it is a fight between good and evil and since many Aspergers have strong sense of justice, this appeals to us. Many non-Aspergers want stories about real life but we have to live real life why read about it? We care about people and their problems but don't want to read stories that go on and on about the problems. We would rather sympathise, then try to come up with a solutions (the male brain). I've been told by several people that I am better than the average person at perceiving intentions. I prefer science fiction with a good character (hero) that I can root for, which is the best of both.




Finally, just wanted to thank everyone who put up with this super-long post. Asperger’s has become something of my special interest for the past six months, and I still feel like there’s just so much I don’t understand. I would really like to move forward soon and find some professional certainty, but thank you all for putting up with my anxious doubts in the meantime. : )

OJani wrote:



About empathy. This question still hits me with puzzled-mind. Though I had been thinking about it, I still lack comprehension. I'm sure I can feel empathy in some cases, when the situation is simple, e.g. a child cries in my presence. On cognitive levels, it is much more difficult to me. One example for a strange and appalling behaviour of mine I experienced in my life was "the lack of empathy" when my grandmother died after a series of suffering. I felt relieved when I was supposed to show pain...



Picking up on all the first points the OP made, that shows character strength and maturity when a post like that delivers precise answers we all seek and who most, would 'emphasise' with.
Not all aspies have a lack of these skills, but growing awareness is key.

"Empathy must be learned it is not automatic". Good one. Shows true character building.

Secondly,

Unlike fiction, there is definitely more than one type of death. I’m picking up that you were unable to feel any grief when your relative died, but I am not going to ask how she came to that point, because being alive whilst dying inside, is a slow death and long healing process for anyone, which you can only account for because you may have been that close.
I know many people on the spectrum, feel a lot of pain when people they’ve loved have passed on, and although it may not be anyone's fault, its grief that can either overwhelm or destroy.. (or both)

So, from a non typical, non judgemental point of view that relies on physical and emotional strength, you are more than just an anatomy of science fiction, more a bigger part of the jigsaw of life.



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16 Oct 2016, 11:54 pm

OP you made the mistake in thinking that anti-social people and sociopaths lack empathy. A lot of the time anti-social people (especially sociopaths) tend to have very good empathy and thus they are able to control and manipulate others easily. You don't see Autistic people doing this because our empathy is poor.