Adults with autism can easily recognise complex emotions such as regret and relief in others, a recent study suggests.
As part of the study, which appears in the journal Autism Research, a team of psychologists used eye-tracking technology to monitor participants as they read stories in which a character made a decision and as a result, experienced a positive or negative outcome.
Heather Ferguson, lead author of the study explained that the study highlights a previously overlooked strength in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The researchers found that adults with ASD were quickly able to think about how things might have turned out differently (either better or worse than reality), then judge whether the story character would feel regret or relief (known as counterfactual emotions).
The adults with ASD were found to be just as good at recognising regret emotions in the character as adults without the condition, and even better at computing relief.
The eye-tracking method provided sensitive information on when readers had inferred the appropriate counterfactual emotion for the character. Appropriate emotions resulted in shorter reading times.
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