The systemizing quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high–functioning autism, and normal sex differences

Simon Baron-Cohen, Jennifer Richler, Dheraj Bisarya, Nhishanth Gurunathan, Sally Wheelwright

Abstract

Systemizing is the drive to analyse systems or construct systems. A recent model of psychological sex differences suggests that this is a major dimension in which the sexes differ, with males being more drawn to systemize than females. Currently, there are no self–report measures to assess this important dimension. A second major dimension of sex differences is empathizing (the drive to identify mental states and respond to these with an appropriate emotion). Previous studies find females score higher on empathy measures. We report a new self–report questionnaire, the Systemizing Quotient (SQ), for use with adults of normal intelligence. It contains 40 systemizing items and 20 control items. On each systemizing item, a person can score 2, 1 or 0, so the SQ has a maximum score of 80 and a minimum of zero. In Study 1, we measured the SQ of n = 278 adults (114 males, 164 females) from a general population, to test for predicted sex differences (male superiority) in systemizing. All subjects were also given the Empathy Quotient (EQ) to test if previous reports of female superiority would be replicated. In Study 2 we employed the SQ and the EQ with n = 47 adults (33 males, 14 females) with Asperger syndrome (AS) or high–functioning autism (HFA), who are predicted to be either normal or superior at systemizing, but impaired at empathizing. Their scores were compared with n = 47 matched adults from the general population in Study 1. In Study 1, as predicted, normal adult males scored significantly higher than females on the SQ and significantly lower on the EQ. In Study 2, again as predicted, adults with AS/HFA scored significantly higher on the SQ than matched controls, and significantly lower on the EQ than matched controls. The SQ reveals both a sex difference in systemizing in the general population and an unusually strong drive to systemize in AS/HFA. These results are discussed in relation to two linked theories: the ‘empathizing–systemizing’ (E–S) theory of sex differences and the extreme male brain (EMB) theory of autism.