Unpicking the autism puzzle by linking empathy to reward

Empathy is at the heart of human social life. It allows us to respond appropriately to others’ emotions and mental states. A perceived lack of empathy is also one of the symptoms that defines autism. Understanding this is key to devising effective therapies.


While empathic behaviour takes many forms,

it is worthwhile to note at least two main

sets of processes that are involved

in empathising.


One of these processes is a bottom-up, automatic response to others’ emotions. The classic example of this is breaking into giggles upon seeing another person giggle, without really knowing the reason why. The other is a top-down response, where we need to work out what another person must be feeling – a bit like solving a puzzle.

by Bhismadev Chakrabarti