Perspective-taking difficulties are diminished when both autistic tendencies and psychosis proneness are balanced, say Birmingham researchers

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have shed new light on the relationship between autistic tendencies and psychosis proneness in neurotypical adults.

If a similar pattern were found in people diagnosed with these conditions, their findings would suggest that a co-occurrence of both conditions might balance, and diminish problems associated with perspective-taking difficulties.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, indicates that while increased tendencies for either condition are associated with perspective-taking difficulties, unexpectedly, these difficulties are diminished in individuals with similar tendency to both autism and psychosis.

As a result, the team believe that the key lies in the balance between the degrees of autistic tendencies and proneness to psychosis.

Autism and psychosis-related conditions affect more than 2% of the world population and lead to marked social and cognitive dysfunctions.

The expected rate for autism or psychosis-related conditions, such as schizophrenia, is estimated at about 1% of the population for each.

These conditions can co-exist in the same individual, but their combined effect on behaviour and cognition remains unknown. Both conditions are associated with difficulties in taking the perspective of others.

The team evaluated the effect of psychosis and autism tendencies on the perspective-taking abilities of 201 neurotypical adults, by asking them to complete a number of tasks.

Ahmad Abu-Akel, Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham, said, “Being able to appreciate the perspective of others feeds into a lot of our social encounters; it’s an important component of our ability to empathise, for example.”

These findings build on the idea of the diametric brain theory – which was based on the observation that autism and schizophrenia often appear to exert opposing influences on phenotypes and behaviour.