Empathy and Cognition in High-Functioning Children with Autism


  • Preparation of this paper was supported by NINCDS grant NS 25243 to the second author. Dr. Yirmiya is now at the Department of Psychology and School of Education, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Kasari is now at the School of Education, University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Mundy is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Miami. This article is based on a dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology conducted by the first author, under the supervision of the second author. Special thanks are extended to B. J. Freeman, Bruce Baker, Duane Buhrmester, Rochelle Caplan, Mike Espinosa, Margie Greenwald, Norma Feshbach, Larry Epstein, Mary Louise Bland, Lisa Capps, Karen Rudolph, Cathy Becker, Anat Kashanian, Jonathan Cohen, Alma Lopez, and Alison Anson. Thanks are also extended to the children and families who participated in the study.

may be sent to: Nurit Yirmiya, Department of Psychology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, Israel 91905.


This study compares the ability of nonretarded autistic children (9–16 years of age) with the ability of normally developing children (9–14 years of age) to discriminate between various emotional states, to take the perspective of another regarding emotional states, and to respond affectively. The children's understanding of conservation was also assessed. While the children with autism did surprisingly well on the empathy-related measures, they performed less well than the normal children on these measures and on conservation. There was a closer association between cognitive abilities and affective understanding in the group of autistic children than in the control group.