The Cambridge Sympathy Test: Self-reported sympathy and distress in autism

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Holt, RJ 
Upadhyay, Jessica 
Smith, Paula 

Abstract Background: Difficulties with aspects of social interaction, including empathy, comprise a core symptom of autism spectrum conditions (autism). Sympathy is a specific form of empathy and involves both cognitive and affective empathy. Data are presented from a new task of self-reported sympathy and personal distress. Methods: Participants with autism (93 males; 161 females) and controls (40 males, 93 females) took part in an online survey via the Autism Research Centre or Cambridge Psychology websites. Participants completed a task where they were asked to rate photographic images that were either of distressing, neutral or happy scenes, according to the amount of sympathy they had for the individual in the photo and the degree of personal distress they felt. All participants also completed the Empathy Quotient (EQ). Results: Significant differences were found between the autism and control groups for both self-reported sympathy and personal distress, with participants with autism giving lower ratings than controls. Control females scored significantly higher than control males in both sympathy and distress. Sympathy and distress ratings in the autism group did not differ significantly by sex. EQ showed positive correlations with sympathy and distress scores. Conclusions: Using a new measure of self-reported sympathy, we found that both males and females with autism gave lower ratings of sympathy when viewing people in distressing scenarios, compared to controls.

Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Case-Control Studies, Empathy, Female, Humans, Internet, Male, Middle Aged, Photography, Psychological Tests, Self Report, Surveys and Questionnaires
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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
European Commission and European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) FP7 Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) (115300)
Medical Research Council (G0600977)
The research leading to these results has received support from the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking under grant agreement n° 115300, resources of which are composed of financial contribution from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007 - 2013) and EFPIA companies' in kind contribution. The authors were also supported by Autism Research Trust, the MRC and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.