Autistic traits predict underestimation of emotional abilities

Charlotte F. Huggins*, Isobel M. Cameron, Justin H.G. Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

People vary in their self-awareness of their own emotions, and this may predict psychological well-being. Evidence suggests that emotional self-awareness is diminished in autism, but these findings may be biased by self-report or confounded by verbal intelligence. To address this issue, we developed the emotional consistency (EC) task, measuring emotional self-awareness through consistency in emotional decision-making. In the EC-Task, we showed participants pairs of emotional images, asking them to judge which evoked the more intense emotional experience. The logical consistency of decision making, based on transitive relationships between stimuli, reflects precision of judgment of experience of emotional intensity, which in turn reflects emotional self-awareness. Emotional consistency significantly correlated with lower self-reported alexithymia but not autistic traits. Instead, autistic traits predicted greater discrepancy between EC-Task performance and self-reported difficulties identifying feelings. Participants with higher autistic traits were more likely to underestimate their emotional self-awareness, possibly because of greater metacognitive difficulties and negative self-beliefs. Our study suggests emotional self-awareness is not diminished in autism and provides a novel method to investigate this issue. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)930-942
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume150
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • alexithymia
  • autistic traits
  • emotion differentiation
  • emotional granularity
  • mental health

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