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Sex and discipline differences in empathising, systemising and autistic symptomatology : evidence from a student population

By Julia M. Carroll and Kim Yung Chiew

Abstract

Baron-Cohenʹs (2002) theory of autism suggests that deficits in theory of mind and weak central coherence in autism can be explained as features of an ‘extreme male brain’ in which empathising is weak and systemising is strong. The two studies presented investigate this theory by examining the relationships between theory of mind, central coherence, empathising, systemising and autistic-like symptomatology in a sample of undergraduates. Study 1 used 48 undergraduates in four equal groups of male and female science and humanities students. Consistent with the theory, there were sex differences in the expected directions on all tasks in the first study. Differences according to discipline were found only on the Block Design task. Individuals with the ‘male brain’ profile also tended to show higher levels of autistic symptomatology. There was no evidence of a link between empathising and social skills on one hand and systemising and central coherence on the other. In the second study, performance on the Mechanical Reasoning and the Social Skills Inventory tasks was compared with performance on the Baron‐Cohen Empathising and Systemising Quotients in a sub‐sample of 20 students from Study 1. Moderately significant correlations were found between the Systemising Quotient and the Mechanical Reasoning task and between the Empathising Quotient and the Social Skills Inventory. Findings are largely consistent with the distinction between empathising and systemising but raise some questions concerning the tasks used to measure these abilities

Topics: BF
Publisher: Springer
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:380

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