Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 10, pp 3939–3955 | Cite as

Empathy in Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Irene E. HarmsenEmail author
S.I. : Empathy in Autism


Empathy is an essential component of human social life. It requires the ability to understand another’s mental state and respond with an appropriate emotion or action. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been described to exhibit atypical empathic responses which limit communication and social interactions. This review highlights the clinical characteristics and mechanisms underlying empathy in ASD by summarizing 61 peer-reviewed articles. Studies characterized empathic differences due to sex, age, intelligence, and disorder severity and provided valuable insights into the roles that genetics, neural networks, and sensory processing have in eliciting empathy. This knowledge will lead to improved diagnostics and therapies to improve social cognition, emotional recognition, and the empathic response in patients with ASD.


Empathy Autism spectrum disorder Autism Asperger syndrome Autistic traits 


Author Contributions

IEH conceptualized, organized, and executed the research project; collected and analyzed the data; created figures and wrote and edited the manuscript.


This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (to I.E.H.).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Medical Science, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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