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Judging emotions vs judging non-sexual attractiveness


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Do you think there’s any similarity between someone on the spectrum trying to interpret emotional cues, and a person trying to judge how attractive someone else is (to other people on average) if they are not sexually attracted to that gender?

For example, how should a heterosexual man go about most accurately judging the average perceived attractiveness of a another man? Maybe they would do their best to be systematic, learning to recognize attractiveness attributes, how much weight to give them, and form a sort of rule based system.

I’ll never be able to truly know my son’s full experience as he lives it, being a high functioning person on the spectrum. But I constantly try my best to understand, just like a friend might try to understand how another close friend feels, however imperfectly that would be. Sometimes I try to think of analogies like this to put it in perspective.

My son does reasonably well at interpeting basic unambiguous emotions, but any subtlety can get difficult. After someone in the room talks, he might quietly ask me, is that guy making a joke or really angry? To improve his skills, he takes courses to understand body language.

As a personal experiment, I started trying to judge attractiveness of a gender I’m not sexually attracted to using famous actors, and then asking others opinions to try and see how good I could get at it.

It was surprising to me that I seemed to share similar challenges with my son’s efforts at emotional judgements. With practice I became fairly proficient, and could usually come within a point or two on a ten point scale, compared to scores from judges attracted to that gender.

However, I had to use a lot of rules and hueristics, and couldn’t rely much on intuition. I was often totally blind to certain subtleties that seemed obvious to others. It could take me minutes to form my judgement, while others were able to glimpse someone for only a second yet still often easily surpass my accuracy.

Do you see any similarities in these challenges, or does it not sound the same at all in your experience?
I'm not sure that they are comparable.

  1. Emotional literacy & social instincts are intuitive for NTs.
  2. We are still not sure of the neurological mechanisms are involved, but we can deduce that auties don't have them, if we take the "black box" approach.
  3. Discerning beauty in other humans is quite subjective (and it isn't necessary for there to be any consensus).
If you want to know what emotional "blindness" is like, watch a black & white TV show (or turn the color all of the way down) and try to deduce what colors were actually used in that videography.

(FYI, did you know that in the days of B&W movies that they chocolate syrup as a stand-in for blood...?)
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It's quite a highly individual way to approach the issue but I see where you are going with the idea. The way you are looking at this also makes me wonder if you ever wondered if your a little bit along the spectrum yourself? It's quite a hereditable thing, and later in life we usually have more skills and strategies, plus people on the spectrum vary in abilty reading emotions . Practice improves some social skills and there is a significant correlation between having a secure attachment style through secure attachment bonds in the family of origin or with others, and improved abilities in social skills. I use the word significant with due diffidence but I understand it to have been demonstrated in a large scale piece of research in China. So I mean if your son is secure and we'll supported that potentially gives him a best chance to develop optimally with social challenges. It's great you are trying to empathise with his struggles.
I would say it is more like learning an entirely visual language when you have visual impairments that interfere with your ability to accurately see shapes and movement.

Or trying to see the difference between red and green when you are red/green colorblind.

Not everyone on the autism spectrum has the same difficulties with reading nonverbal emotional cues, though, and some recent research suggests that difficulty with reading emotion (by itself) is more linked to alexythemia than autism (and not everyone with autism has alexythemia).

I would separate out some things that I think a lot of people just sort of lump together (like the ability to see the and correctly identify the emotion in another person's movements/posture, facial expression, and tone of voice versus the ability to infer why they are displaying any particular emotion via analyzing/synthesizing theories about their thoughts/perspective with various interpretations of context). I can see and correctly identify the emotion others display, my struggle is mostly in figuring out why that emotion is there -- cognitive empathy is much harder for me than the emotional empathy, maybe because while I experience all the same emotions that NTs do my thoughts and perceptions are often very different from those of the average person.
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My father who I think was asp - as I think am I and my sister, used to assert that people were pretending when they showed feelings, as a child this was undermining plus I assumed he knew best and this added to the confusion I have, but many years of therapy and some relevant training has helped me access more skills and understanding of my emotions and other's expression of emotions. However I mainly operate through thinking and intellectually understanding the role of emotions and compensating a lack of any emotional savvy with thoughts. It works okay. I have emotions but they don't seem to connect to other parts of my brain or thinking too well, your post is interesting @the_tortoise to help me think more about this.

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