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Systemizing empathy: Teaching adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism to recognize complex emotions using interactive multimedia

  • OFER GOLAN (a1) and SIMON BARON-COHEN (a1)
Abstract

This study evaluated Mind Reading, an interactive systematic guide to emotions, for its effectiveness in teaching adults with Asperger syndrome (AS) and high-functioning autism (HFA) to recognize complex emotions in faces and voices. Experiment 1 tested a group of adults diagnosed with AS/HFA (n = 19) who used the software at home for 10–15 weeks. Participants were tested on recognition of faces and voices at three different levels of generalization. A matched control group of adults with AS/HFA (n = 22) were assessed without any intervention. In addition, a third group of general population controls (n = 24) was tested. Experiment 2 repeated the design of Experiment 1 with a group of adults with AS/HFA who used the software at home and met in a group with a tutor on a weekly basis. They were matched to a control group of adults with AS/HFA attending social skills training and to a general population control group (n = 13 for all three groups). In both experiments the intervention group improved significantly more than the control group on close, but not distant, generalization tasks. Verbal IQ had significant effects in Experiment 2. Using Mind Reading for a relatively short period of time allows users to learn to recognize a variety of complex emotions and mental states. However, additional methods are required to enhance generalization.The first author was supported by the National Alliance for Autism Research, the Corob Charitable Trust, the Cambridge Overseas Trust and B'nai B'rith Leo Baeck scholarships. The second author was supported by the Shirley Foundation, the Medical Research Council, and the Three Guineas Trust. We are grateful to the following for helping with this study: our participants, Red Green and Blue Ltd, Jessica Kingsley Ltd, Pamela Yates for arranging and running the social skills groups, Andrea Macleod and Rob Whiskens (Autism West Midlands), Jill Howard (Autism London), Lynne Moxon (European Services for People with Autism), and Harriet Fisher and James Graham (The Interact Centre). Many thanks to Jacqueline Hill, Chris Ashwin, Sally Wheelwright, Matthew Belmonte, Yael Golan, Sarah Johnson, Emma Chapman, and Ilaria Minio Paluello. A version of this work was presented at the International Meeting For Autism Research (IMFAR), May 2004.

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Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ofer Golan, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, Department of Psychiatry, Douglas House, 18b Trumpington Road, Cambridge CB2 2AH, UK; E-mail: og211@cam.ac.uk.
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