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Falter-Wagner, Christine M. ORCID: 0000-0002-5574-8919; Bloch, Carola ORCID: 0000-0002-5234-0336; Burghof, Lana; Lehnhardt, Fritz-Georg; Vogeley, Kai ORCID: 0000-0002-5891-5831 (2022): Autism traits outweigh alexithymia traits in the explanation of mentalising performance in adults with autism but not in adults with rejected autism diagnosis. Molecular Autism, 13: 32. ISSN 2040-2392

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Pronounced alexithymia traits have been found in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and recent research has been carving out the impact alexithymia traits might have on mentalising deficits associated with ASD.

In this cross-sectional study, a large representative referral population for diagnostic examination for possible ASD ( n = 400) was screened for clinical alexithymia with a German version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RME). In contrast to previous attempts to carve out the impact of alexithymia traits on mentalising deficits though, we employed dominance analysis to account for the correlation between predictors. The relative relationship between alexithymia traits and autism traits with RME performance was investigated in the group of individuals with confirmed ASD diagnosis ( N = 281) and compared to the clinical referral sample in which ASD was ruled out ( N = 119).

Dominance analysis revealed autism traits to be the strongest predictor for reduced mentalising skills in the ASD sample, whereas alexithymia contributed significantly less. In the sample of individuals with ruled out diagnosis, autism traits were the strongest predictor, but alexithymia traits were in sum equally associated to mentalising, with the External-Oriented Thinking subscale as an important predictor of this association.

It needs to be considered that the cross-sectional study design does not allow for causal inference. Furthermore, mentalising is a highly facetted capacity and measurements need to reduce this complexity into simple quantities which limits the generalizability of results.

While alexithymia traits should be considered for their mental health importance, they do not dominate the explanation of reduced mentalising skills in individuals with ASD, but they might do to a larger degree in individuals with ruled out ASD.

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