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Sexual Differences and Autistic Traits – Medical News


More than half a million people participate in the largest study ever conducted on psychological sexual and autistic features

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have completed the study the largest in the world on the typical differences in sex and autism. They have proven and confirmed two long-term psychological theories:

  1. The theory of empathy and systematisation of sexual differences.
  2. The theory of extreme masculine brain autism.

Big data is important to draw conclusions that are replicable and robust. This is an example of how scientists can work with the media to achieve the science of important data. David Greenberg

Working with the Channel 4 TV production company, they tested more than that half a million people, including more than 36,000 people with autism. The results are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • empathy-systematization theory He predicts that womenon average, they will get better grades than men in empathic tests, the ability to recognize what another person thinks or feels and to respond to their mental state with adequate emotion.
  • Similarly, she predicts this men, on average, will get a higher score in System Testing, the unit that will analyze or build rule-based systems.
  • Extreme masculine brain theory On average, people with autism are expected to experience a male change in these two dimensions: namely, they will score lower than the typical population in empathy tests and will get the same qualification if they do not exceed those typical of the test population systematization.

While both theories have been confirmed in previous studies on relatively modest samples, new findings come from a massive sample 671,606 people, which included 36,648 people with autism. They were replicated in a second sample of 14,354 people. In this new study, scientists have used very short measures of empathy, systematisation and autistic features of 10 articles.

Using these measures, the team identified that in the typical population, women, on average, they got more than men in empathy and men, on average, achieved higher scores than women with systemic and autistic features. These sexual differences are have reduced in people with autism.

In all these measures, on average, there were scores of people with autism "Masculinized": ie they had higher scores on the characteristics of autism and systematisation and lower scores on empathy compared to the typical population.

The team also calculated the difference (or "score d") between each individual's score in systematisation and empathy tests. An elevated "d" score means that a person's systematisation is greater than empathy, and a low "d" score means that their empathy is greater than systematization.

They found that, in the typical population, men on average had a change to a "high d score," while women on average had a shift to a low "d score." People with autism, on average, had a change to a "d score" even higher than typical men. Surprisingly, "d scores" represented 19 times more variation in autism features than other variables, including sex.

Finally, menon average, had dozens of autistic features higher than women. Those working in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have, on average, dozens of autism features and systematisations greater than those of occupations that do not belong to those categories. In contrast, those who worked in non-STEM occupations had, on average, higher empathy scores than those who worked in STEM.

This figure provides the density graphs for the four measurements. Each separate graph is a measure, with scores as provided on the x-axis. Density is provided on y-axis. Each colored line is a category based on diagnosis and sex.

In the article, the authors discuss how important it is to keep in mind that the differences observed in this study apply only to group media, not to individuals. They point out that this data they do not say anything about an individual depending on their genre, the diagnosis of autism or occupation. Doing this would constitute stereotypes and discrimination, to which the authors strongly oppose.

In addition, the authors reiterate that the two theories apply only to two dimensions of the typical gender differences: empathy and systematization. They do not apply to all gender differences, such as aggression and extrapolation of theories beyond these two dimensions would be a misconception.

Finally, the authors point out that, although autism is confronted with "cognitive empathy", recognizing the thoughts and feelings of other people, however, have emotional "empathy" intact, they care about others. It's a misunderstanding the common belief that autistic people are struggling with all forms of empathy, which not true.

Dr. Varun Warrier of the Cambridge team said, "These gender differences in the typical population are very clear. We know from related studies that individual differences in empathy and systematization are partial genetic, partly influenced by us prenatal hormonal exposure and partly thanks environmental experience. We need to investigate to what extent these observed sexual differences are due to each of these factors and how they interact. "

Dr. David Greenberg of the Cambridge team said: "Big data is important to draw conclusions that are replicable and robust. This is an example of how scientists can work with the media to achieve science large data.

Dr. Carrie Allison of the Cambridge team said: "We thank the general public and the autism community for participating in this research. The next step should be to consider the relevance of these findings to education and support, if necessary."

This figure provides the cumulative distribution function based on score D. The score D is given on the x-axis and the cumulative frequency on the y-axis. Each colored line is a category based on sex and diagnosis.

Teacher Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center in Cambridge, who proposed these two theories nearly two decades ago, said: "This research provides strong support for both theories." This study also highlights some of the qualities that they brings the autistic neurodiversity. They are, on average, powerful systematizers, which means they have excellent model recognition skills, a special attention to detail, and an ability to understand how things work. We need to support our talents to reach the potential and benefits of society. "


Greenberg, DM et al. Testing empathizing-systemising theory of sex differences and extreme theory of the male autism brain to half a million people. PNAS; November 12, 2018; DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1811032115

This study was supported by the Autism Research Trust, Medical Research Council, Wellcome, and the Templeton World Charity Foundation. Inc. It was developed in conjunction with the CLAHRC NIHR for Cambridgeshire and the Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Center.

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