How empathetic are you? Most of us interact with other people─ family, friends, co-workers, strangers─ by an unwritten set of rules based solely on our ability to “mind read” a situation. That is, to be intuitively aware of others around us and respond accordingly. Those who have autism have a difficult time mindreading. What comes naturally or intuitively to people without autism often must be taught like a set of concrete rules to those with autism. Mindblindness by Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, explores this notion of mindreading. In his book, Baron-Cohen challenges his readers to see the world differently:
“Imagine what your world would be like if you were aware of physical things but were blind to the existence of mental things…blind to things like thoughts, beliefs, knowledge, desires, and intentions, which for most of us self-evidently underlie behavior. Stretch your imagination to consider what sense you could make of human action (or, for that matter, any animate action whatsoever) if, as for a behaviorist, a mentalistic explanation was forever beyond your limits.”
Baron-Cohen’s research in the difficulties that people with autism face in interpreting the actions and intentions of others has helped lay the foundation of autism research today.
If you’re interested in testing your “mindreading” skills and discovering how empathetic you truly are, check out the Empathy Quotient Test developed by Baron-Cohen.
Want to learn more about autism? Autism Speaks is a great place to find information about the basics of autism, read personal stories, and get involved in autism awareness.