Emergent Relationships Between Empathizing And Systemizing Skills In Autistic And Typical Development
Empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory attempts to explain individual cognitive variation in terms of an extrapolation of the autism spectrum. In this view, autism is an extreme version of the human brain in terms of its "male-ness," the prototypical male brain being organized - via prenatal androgen exposure - for 'systemizing,' or detail-oriented, observation-based, 'lawful, finite, and deterministic' rule-making. The 'extreme female brain,' by contrast, is organized for 'empathizing,' the ability to accurately attribute intentionality to others. The full range of these attributes constitutes the E-S spectrum, within which the general population is normally distributed. E-S theory helps explain individual and sex differences with real world importance, such as the social idiosyncrasies characterizing many individuals in systemizing fields (e.g., engineering, computer science) and the underrepresentation of women in STEM. Implicit in E-S theory is the assumption that empathizing and systemizing domains co-vary; that social tradeoffs come with a detail-oriented cognitive "style". This assumption is recognizable in the longstanding search for singular causes of autism that will explain social and non-social symptoms; and in everyday presumptions about the social skills of individuals excelling in numerical and spatial domains. We begin with an overview of the E-S covariance literature and the three works comprising this dissertation, followed by individual chapters discussing each work in depth. The first is an empirical investigation indicating that E-S co-variance assumptions apply more to males than females, in whom the two domains are orthogonal. These sex- dependent patterns extend to college major, suggesting an ability breadth alternative to the absolute ability account of female STEM underrepresentation. The second reviews cognitive sex differences studies utilizing second-to-fourth digit length ration (2D/4D) as a biomarker of prenatal testosterone exposure, and argues that the biological linchpin of E-S theory - the brain organization effects of prenatal testosterone exposure - may also be sex-dependent. The third synthesizes the literature on empathizing-systemizing co-variance across clinical, sub-clinical, and typically developing populations into a model of developmentally emergent E-S co-variance. In each case co-variance assumptions are confirmed and challenged, providing novel insights about typical and autistic development. In the concluding chapter this model is used to account for the findings of the first two works, and future empirical directions are suggested based on the collective insights of all three works.
Autism; Cognitive Sex Differences; Empathizing Systemizing
Ceci, Stephen John
Robertson, Steven S; Belmonte, Matthew Kenneth
Ph.D. of Developmental Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis