Typical pain experience but underestimation of others’ pain: emotion perception in self and others in autism spectrum disorderemotion perception in self and others in autism spectrum disorder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Difficulties in emotion perception are commonly observed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it is unclear whether these difficulties can be attributed to a general problem of relating to emotional states, or whether they specifically concern the perception of others’ expressions. This study addressed this question in the context of pain, a sensory and emotional state with strong social relevance. We investigated pain evaluation in self and others in sixteen male individuals with ASD and sixteen age- and gender-matched individuals without ASD. Both groups had at least average intelligence and comparable levels of alexithymia and pain catastrophizing. We assessed pain reactivity by administering suprathreshold electrical pain stimulation at four intensity levels. Pain evaluation in others was investigated using dynamic facial expressions of shoulder patients experiencing pain at the same four intensity levels. Participants with ASD evaluated their own pain as being more intense than the pain of others, showing an underestimation bias for others’ pain at all intensity levels. Conversely, in the control group, self- and other-evaluations of pain intensity were comparable and positively associated. Results indicate that emotion perception difficulties in ASD concern the evaluation of others’ emotional expressions, with no evidence for atypical
experience of own emotional states.


  • Hanna Thaler
  • Joshua C. Skewes
  • Line Gebauer
  • Peer Christensen
  • Kenneth M. Prkachin
  • Else-Marie Jegindø Elmholdt
External organisations
  • Aarhus University
  • University of Northern British Columbia
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Psychiatry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)751-762
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch