Empathy, values, morality and Asperger’s syndrome


Shari Hirvelä, Department of Social Research, Unit of Social Psychology, Box 54, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: shari.hirvela@helsinki.fi


Hirvelä, S. & Helkama, K. (2011). Empathy, values, morality and Asperger’s syndrome. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.

The aims of this study were, first, to re-address the issue of empathy among people with autism conditions; second, to explore the relationships between empathy and values among autistic populations and controls; and third, to explore the capacity for moral agency among those affected by autism. We compared responses of an Asperger group (N = 41) and a control group (N = 139) to measures of self-reported empathy (Davis’s IRI) and value priorities (Schwartz’s PVQ). Control group results were largely in line with previous studies, such that empathy subscales of perspective taking and empathic concern showed their strongest positive and negative relations to the Schwartz self-transcendence/self-enhancement dimensions. Results for the Asperger group showed that although on the one hand there were self-reported difficulties in perspective taking and the cognitive recognition of affect, and that on the other hand there were less connections between the empathy and value measures, there was nevertheless a comparable prioritization of moral values. Conclusions suggest that different people may acquire moral values through different mechanisms.