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Cortex. 2014 Sep;58:112-22. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2014.05.008. Epub 2014 Jun 9.

Feelings of regret and disappointment in adults with high-functioning autism.

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Institut Jean Nicod, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Département d'Etudes Cognitives, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France. Electronic address:
Centre de Neuroscience Cognitive, CNRS, UMR 5229, Bron, France.
Lyon Neuroscience Research Center (Brain Dynamics and Cognition Team), INSERM U1028, CNRS UMR 5292, Lyon 1 University, Lyon, France.
INSERM U 955, IMRB, University Paris Est Creteil, AP-HP, Henri Mondor-Albert Chenevier Hospitals, Department of Psychiatry, Fondation FondaMental, French National Science Foundation, Creteil, France.
Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives, INSERM U 960, Département d'Etudes Cognitives, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; Department of Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA.


Impairments in emotional processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) can be characterised by failure to generate and recognize self-reflective, cognitive-based emotions, such as pride, embarrassment and shame. Among this type of emotions, regret and disappointment, as well as their positive counterparts, result from a counterfactual comparison, that is the comparison between an actual value ("what is") and a fictive value ("what might have been"). However, while disappointment is experienced when the obtained outcome is worse than the expected outcome that might have occurred from the same choice, regret occurs when one experiences an outcome that is worse than the outcome of foregone choices. By manipulating a simple gambling task, we examined subjective reports on the intensity of negative and positive emotions in a group of adults with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger syndrome (HFA/AS), and a control group matched for age, gender and educational level. Participants were asked to choose between two lotteries with different levels of risk under two conditions of outcome feedback: (i) Partial, in which only the outcome of the chosen lottery was visible, (ii) Complete, in which the outcomes of the two lotteries were simultaneously visible. By comparing partial and complete conditions, we aimed to investigate the differential effect between disappointment and regret, as well as between their positive counterparts. Relative to the control participants (CP), the group with HFA/AS reported reduced regret and no difference between regret and disappointment, along with a preserved ability to use counterfactual thinking and similar choice behaviour. Difficulties to distinguish the feeling of regret in participants with HFA/AS can be explained by diminished emotional awareness, likely associated with an abnormal fronto-limbic connectivity.


Alexithymia; Amygdala; Autism; Emotions; Social cognition

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