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Self-conscious emotions such as embarrassment and shame are associated with 2 aspects of theory of mind (ToM): (a) the ability to understand that behavior has social consequences in the eyes of others and (b) an understanding of social norms violations. The present study aimed to link ToM with the recognition of self-conscious emotion. Children with and without autism identified facial expressions conscious of self-conscious and non-self-conscious emotions from photographs. ToM was also measured. Children with autism performed more poorly than comparison children at identifying self-conscious emotions, though they did not differ in the recognition of non-self-conscious emotions. When ToM ability was statistically controlled, group differences in the recognition of self-conscious emotion disappeared. Discussion focused on the links between ToM and self-conscious emotion.
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Although once considered disruptive, self-conscious emotions are now theorized to be fundamentally involved in the regulation of social behavior. The present study examined the social regulation function of self-conscious emotions by comparing healthy participants with a neuropsychological population--patients with orbitofrontal lesions--characterized by selective regulatory deficits. Orbitofrontal patients and healthy controls participated in a series of tasks designed to assess their social regulation and self-conscious emotions. Another task assessed the ability to infer others' emotional states, an appraisal process involved in self-conscious emotion. Consistent with the theory that self-conscious emotions are important for regulating social behavior, the findings show that deficient behavioral regulation is associated with inappropriate self-conscious emotions that reinforce maladaptive behavior. Additionally, deficient behavioral regulation is associated with impairments in interpreting the self-conscious emotions of others.
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Teasing requires the ability to understand intention, nonliteral communication, pretense, and social context. Children with autism experience difficulty with such skills, and consequently, are expected to have difficulty with teasing. To better understand teasing concepts and behaviors, children with autism, their parents, and age and Verbal-IQ-matched comparison children and parents described concepts and experiences of teasing and engaged in a parent–child teasing interaction. The teasing of children with autism was less playful and provocative and focused less on social norms than that of comparison children. Similarly, parents of children with autism teased in less playful ways. Scores on a theory of mind task accounted for several of the observed differences. Discussion focused on the importance of understanding social context and playful behavior during teasing.
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