Social emotions

Emotion socialization and equity

Social emotions, like empathy, pride, shame and guilt, are directed towards keeping social connectedness and group cohesion. These emotions are more complex as they are not focused on direct individual desires and needs, but instead on how and what other people are doing or thinking; and how our own behavior can affect social relationships now and in the future.


Autistic individuals are often portrayed as being less empathy than allistic people, but our studies show differently. Although understanding other people’s emotions and need might not always come easily to autistic teens (cognitive empathy), they do feel when others are in stress, but it can be difficult to react “appropriately”, i.e. in the eyes of the allistic people. Moreover, it seems that other people’s arousal in fact can contribute to over-arousal in autistic teens. 

Shame and guilt

Moral emotions, like shame and guilt, occur when transgressing a social norm. Important for these emotions is (1) understanding that you violated a social norm, (2) signaling this understanding to relevant others, and (3) to be re-accepted in the social group by the others. Thus far, our studies confirm development in autistic and allistic youth at a similar pace, although baseline levels seem lower in autistic youth.

People involved

Psychology, Leiden University - Carolien Rieffe, Boya Li, Evelien Broekhof, Rachel O'Connor.

Partners from different clinical settings - Lex Stockmann (Center for Autism), Els Blijd-Hoogewys (INTER-PSY), Kirstin Greaves-Lord (Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam).

Key publications


These projects are funded by NWO, ZonMw, Nuts-OHRA.