Three different types of empathy - how did I miss this??

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analyser23
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14 Jul 2012, 5:27 am

How have I studied soooo much about AS and not come across this?

The whole "aspies don't have empathy" idea, I had heard was a myth and I agree with it, because I am able to pick up on other's emotions really easily.

What I didn't realise was that aspies ARE good at that type of empathy, in fact they can be OVERLY good at it.

The type of empathy we have trouble with is Cognitive empathy. That is, figuring out what others are _thinking_. This has ALWAYS baffled me, I can never ever figure this out - I have bookshelves FILLED with books on trying to understand this, from all different sorts of perspectives.

From a quick google search:

http://drdeborahserani.blogspot.com.au/ ... ctive.html

"Cognitive empathy is the ability to perceive what another person is thinking. "She must be telling herself this was a mistake."

Affective empathy is the ability to sense what another person is emotionally experiencing. "She must be feeling upset about this mistake." "

http://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/in ... 132AACU3sb

"There are 3 main types of empathy but Aspergers only have problems with one of them:

* Empathic Concern (Sympathy)
* Affective Empathy (feeling the pain, sorrow, love etc of others - what most people call empathy)
* Cognitive Empathy (understanding the thoughts, perspectives and motivations of others)

It is only this third type Aspergers have problems with, most having no issues with the first two. The only reason an Asperger may 'appear' to have less Affective Empathy and Sympathy has to do with a comorbid condition called Alexithymia, which jumbles the emotions and makes them very difficult to express - this is not the same as not having those emotions at all.

It's this misunderstanding of the different types of Empathy why people confuse Aspergers with Psycho/Sociopaths, in fact they are polar opposites. Aspergers lack Cognitive Empathy, Psychopaths have an almost complete lack of Affective Empathy. Cog. Empathy is what a psychopath uses to manipulate people, something most Aspergers are completely incapable of doing. But Aspergers are capable of love, sympathy, compassion etc, traits psycho/sociopaths are incapable of feeling."

http://psychcentral.com/lib/2011/debunk ... ome/all/1/

6. Myth: They lack empathy.

Fact: “Empathy is a complicated concept,” Gaus said. Some researchers have divided empathy into four components: two called “cognitive empathy” and two called “emotional empathy.” People with Asperger’s struggle with cognitive empathy but have no problem with emotional empathy, she said.

Take the above example: The person with Asperger’s isn’t able to intellectually infer that the co-worker who lost their cat might be sad, especially in the moment. They might realize this hours later at home. “But when they do know the person is sad, they are able to feel that sadness without any difficulty, perhaps even more intensely than typical people,” she said. In other words, “they have difficult expressing empathy in a conventional way.” It’s a problem of communication, not empathy, she said."


Anyway, this has shone a massive light on the subject for me!! I would always say to my partner that I can sense what he is feeling but I could never understand what he was thinking. I would badger and pester him with questions to try to understand, and this would just annoy him. I would also often tell others how they are feeling before they even knew themselves, but then would also have to pick their brain to work out why. I pick up on others emotions in a room and often comment on there being a certain emotional "vibe" about a place.... Yet constantly I am baffled as to what people are thinking, and how they are thinking it...
I have gotten much better at it over the years though, BECAUSE of my endless questions. I often get it wrong, still, but the more people I learn about the more of a "repertoire" of experiences I have. It still is hard to get past my initial fear that if someone is upset they are upset with ME :(



Sanctus
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14 Jul 2012, 6:21 am

Well that's a point in which I'm an unusual Aspie. I don't have any particular problems with Cognitive or Affective empathy, but I suck at Empathic Concern, I have very little of that.



Atomsk
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14 Jul 2012, 6:37 am

I have problems with all three. I have HFA, though.



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14 Jul 2012, 8:02 am

Thank you for the post, it is VERY interesting.

In your example about the co worker and the cat, I would from my own experience believe that the co worker would be sad and depressed over the loss of their cat, BECAUSE I have lost a dear cat myself and would think that they felt as I had felt. However, I would probably quite awkwardly not know what to say or do to help them feel better and might appear unfeeling because I wanted to not say the wrong thing, or if I changed the subject to get their mind off their sadness or something.


It sounds like you also have a strange talent that I have had, but been baffled to explain. Sort of like being a white glove in a dusty room, picking up the emotional weather of the people in the room, but then combined with alexithymia , it just makes me feel completely confused. A wise teacher explained it to me as sort of, my energy helps people to feel their feelings, it makes a safe space, and they feel their feelings that they have shoved down. That is sometimes uncomfortable for them, people go to great lengths not to feel lots of things. So then they are either relieved to process these feelings, or terrified or angry to have to face painful feelings. And it isn't about me, but sometimes gets misdirected at me, or I mistake it as being about me.

Anyway, thanks for the concise explanation, I enjoyed reading it.


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Ericys
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14 Jul 2012, 9:07 am

Through reading different neurobiological articles in magazines I had come to the conclusions that I was very similar to that of a sociopath and that the only difference between us was my very active ventromedial prefrontal cortex (fear processing centre). The information you have provided allows me to have a better understanding of exactly what is different between me and that of a sociopath and alleviates some of the concern.


With that having been said:

Throughout most of my life I have spent a lot of time around very emotional people and combined it with what I’ve seen in movies (Acting is about showing emotion?). Having such a large amount of information I have created a mental compendium which I can use as a sort of reference whenever I see a particular facial expression or notice a specific action taken by an individual.

I cannot say this compendium is the most reliable of resources as I have been told I’m “paranoid” on many occasions. The reliability is questioned further due to what I think may be an unnatural hierarch of emotion (joy is a stronger form of happy; excitement is a stronger form of joy, etc.).

Analogously to a computer my mind becomes an overloaded circuit whenever attempting to figure out what another person is thinking.

I’d rather do a complex calculation than even attempt to decipher what a person is thinking based on their body language.



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14 Jul 2012, 2:05 pm

Quote:
"Cognitive empathy is the ability to perceive what another person is thinking. "She must be telling herself this was a mistake."

Affective empathy is the ability to sense what another person is emotionally experiencing. "She must be feeling upset about this mistake." "


No, actually both of those are cognitive empathy. Affective empathy is feeling an emotion more appropriate to the situation of the person you're observing than yourself.

Take a psychopath for example. They might have this thought process: 'She made a mistake, she seems upset about this, how can I turn this to my advantage?' The fact that she's upset doesn't trigger any emotion in them.

In contrast, most AS people (myself included) would probably not have noticed what the person was thinking or feeling, because both of those involve the same skill which is typically impaired in AS - reading nonverbal cues. Then when she says 'I feel so stupid, I made a mistake about such-and-such' and the AS person feels sad for her and tries to comfort her (but may be unskilled at comforting as well).

So what you call empathic concern is actually what affective empathy means. And the distinction between detecting thoughts and detecting emotions is not a real distinction, because both require the exact same skill. For example, paying attention to eyes will tell you both certain emotions that impact on the eye position/muscles around eyes, and what they're looking at.



Last edited by Ettina on 14 Jul 2012, 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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14 Jul 2012, 2:08 pm

:hail: :hail: :hail: YES!! ! This pretty much describes me!! ! A resource that understands and publishes it like it actually is!! Imagine of all psychologist had this view!! Thank you for posting it!! ! :cheers: :cheers: :cheers: :cheers: :cheers:


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aSKperger
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14 Jul 2012, 3:29 pm

Very valuable posts, where should I find more? Any books?



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14 Jul 2012, 3:39 pm

The conclusion I'd reached regarding my own empathy is that I can sympathise with people and feel the full range of emotions but my biggest problem is reading what others are feeling from their facial expressions and body language. I can see extreme emotions such as joy, sadness and anger but apparently there are lots of expressions expressing various other emotions and I'm blind to those. That can give the impression I don't care or have empathy when I'm simply blind to what the other person is experiencing and can only go on their spoken words.


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14 Jul 2012, 4:10 pm

analyser23 wrote:
* Empathic Concern (Sympathy)
* Affective Empathy (feeling the pain, sorrow, love etc of others - what most people call empathy)
* Cognitive Empathy (understanding the thoughts, perspectives and motivations of others)

It is only this third type Aspergers have problems with, most having no issues with the first two. The only reason an Asperger may 'appear' to have less Affective Empathy and Sympathy has to do with a comorbid condition called Alexithymia, which jumbles the emotions and makes them very difficult to express - this is not the same as not having those emotions at all.


Alexithymia is not a condition, it's just a description of someone who has trouble naming or identifying emotions and feelings. This is not a cause.

Aspies often have some deficiency in all 3 emotions, where the misunderstanding with "aspies have no emotions", is that we are a few points behind. Not that it is completely absent.

Jason.



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14 Jul 2012, 4:59 pm

I just had this explained to me the other day. I was also thrown a curveball. This person was saying that Aspies actually OVER feel most emotions so perhaps we learn to turn of our empathy because if we felt all that empathy it be to overwhelming. I thought it was an interesting idea.


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betrayedbymyown
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14 Jul 2012, 5:44 pm

So aspies are generally fine with affective empathy, but have difficulty with cognitive empathy, while sociopaths are the other way around, proficient with cognitive empathy but lacking affective empathy and the underlying emotions.

What I find interesting about sociopathic and narcissist types is that, even though they don't actually experience the emotions, they will still take offense at an aspie's lack of empathy, purely on the basis that the rules of cognitive empathy say they should.

For example, the office sociopath's cat has died. The sociopath actually doesn't give a damn, or may have killed it herself. The office aspie will have some kind of aspie moment, e.g. he will make an inappropriate joke. The sociopath isn't hurt at all and may even find it pretty amusing, but in the interests of social climbing in the NT world, she needs to blend in with the NT herd. So the sociopath will apply her cognitive empathy rules to her own situation, and feign the appropriate emotional response. The aspie has not actually hurt the sociopath, and does not owe her any affective empathy, but has been made to feel that he does.



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14 Jul 2012, 6:50 pm

:hail:

I always said that it wasn't that I didn't care how other people felt, but that I didn't know (and even if I did, didn't know why).

I'm going to have to print this out on some nice, stiff paper, and next time someone claims aspies don't have empathy, roll it up and beat that person over the head with it.



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14 Jul 2012, 7:35 pm

analyser23 wrote:
"There are 3 main types of empathy but Aspergers only have problems with one of them:

* Empathic Concern (Sympathy)
* Affective Empathy (feeling the pain, sorrow, love etc of others - what most people call empathy)
* Cognitive Empathy (understanding the thoughts, perspectives and motivations of others)

It is only this third type Aspergers have problems with, most having no issues with the first two. The only reason an Asperger may 'appear' to have less Affective Empathy and Sympathy has to do with a comorbid condition called Alexithymia, which jumbles the emotions and makes them very difficult to express - this is not the same as not having those emotions at all.
:(


The reason that we have a problem with this third type of empathy is not because we have some mental defect -- We think differently and react differently than the NTs - I will bet that if NTs were tested for this ability with Asperger's they would do no better than we do when trying to use such an ability on NTs, and probably not as well (due to lack of practice). In other words - NTs are probably no better as guessing what an Asperger's is thinking than an Asperger's is at guessing what an NT is thinking!

An illustration: a couple years back I was at a computer event there were both "normal people" and geeks (and the geek of interest was strongly Asperger's) at the event. There was this one geek at a table showing off his abilities at cracking into non-responsive computers. An NT had been standing nearby and made the comment "You some kinda uber-Geek or something" - the geek replied "why, thank you" - where upon the NT shot back "Didn't mean it as a complement!" - the geek said "But I take is as one" - the NT huffed and left. - This NT had completely misread the geek.

I remember a story from an Asperger's mother that could often see meltdowns coming not only for her Aspie son but also for the other Aspie children on outings - However, the NT chaperones were nearly always caught off guard and were clueless.

So it very much looks like that we can read other Asperger's better than NTs can read us - This is nothing more than - for some one to read you - the both of you must be using very similar thought processes. So from my point of view we and the NTs do about the same at this type of empathy - which is fairly good with our own - but not so good with different mental types.


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14 Jul 2012, 7:41 pm

Nymeria8 - this is me... I have been very very sensitive. I have felt the feelings the falling leaf had :lol:
It was horrible. So I learnt how to turn my empathy of. I worked with very ill people, suicidal, abroad at harsh conditions, leprosy on the streets... Now I mostly do not use empathy, no need for it. Just in intimate situations :)


Nonperson - exactly, I am going to print this too :lol:



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14 Jul 2012, 8:32 pm

Quote:
I remember a story from an Asperger's mother that could often see meltdowns coming not only for her Aspie son but also for the other Aspie children on outings - However, the NT chaperones were nearly always caught off guard and were clueless.


That sounds like me. I do agree that we more have a different style of communication than an actual deficit, though I think being raised in an NT world can give us a social deficit due to lack of the right kind of practice. Deaf kids with hearing parents are often delayed on Theory of Mind tests, as are blind kids with sighted children, while Deaf od Deaf kids are normal on ToM. This suggests that ToM seems to be affected by being raised among people who experience the world fundamentally differently than you do. My theory is that anything that impacts on parent-child communication, verbal or nonverbal, can slow ToM development to some degree.

Deaf of Deaf kids have no more trouble communicating with their parents than hearing kids do. Deaf parents of hearing kids have a double whammy - their parents are inexperienced at signing, and may have only started signing later in childhood (if the kid wasn't diagnosed at birth, chances are they'll be diagnosed when they start showing delays). Plus, they're not as good at communicating nonverbally with a deaf child. They'll forget that the kid needs to be looking at them to know what they are doing, and struggle to get the child's attention, and forget and try to talk to them or make a sound at them, and so forth. In my experience, these struggles echo the way a lot of NT parents of autistic kids struggle to interact with their kids - for example, in the Autism Every Day video, I saw many examples of miscommunication between parent and child where the parent was as much at fault as the child was. (For example, that kid who tried to start a game of interactive stimming, and his Mom just shoved his hands away.)

Has anyone studied ToM in autistic kids with autistic parents? I'm pretty sure they haven't. According to my theory, these kids should be way ahead of other autistic kids in this area.