Systemizing in autism spectrum conditions

The ARC was the first group to suggest a link between autistic traits, familial autism risk, and talent at systemizing. Systemizing is the drive to analyse or construct a system. A system is anything that follows rules and is thus lawful. It might be a mechanical system (e.g., a machine or a spinning wheel), an abstract system (e.g., number patterns), a natural system (e.g., water flow, or the weather), or a collectible system (e.g., classifying objects such as DVDs by author or toy cars by shape, colour, size). We have found that people with autism or Asperger Syndrome may have unusual talents at systemizing (e.g., in physics), that people who are gifted mathematicians may be more likely to have a diagnosis of autism or Asperger Syndrome, that even among the low-functioning individuals with classic autism, 'obsessional' narrow interests tend to focus on systems, and that their excessively repetitive behaviour and interest may be signs of strong systemizing. We are developing new tests of systemizing, both performance tests and questionnaires such as the Systemizing Quotient (SQ), with different versions for different age groups. Although a psychological construct, we are correlating individual differences in systemizing with brain activity using fMRI, genetic polymorphisms, and prenatal hormonal levels. We are also testing aspects of systemizing, such as excellent attention to detail, in first-degree family members, as a measure of the broader autism phenotype. We are examining the relationship between local processing and systemizing. Finally, we are using the intact or even superior systemizing in autism or Asperger Syndrome to promote learning of empathy.


Selected References

679: E. Ruzich, C. Allison, B. Chakrabarti, P. Smith, H. Musto, H. Ring, S. Baron-Cohen (2015)
Sex and STEM Occupation Predict Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) Scores in Half a Million People
PLoS ONE 10(10):e0141229

676: R Grove, A Baillie, C Allison, S Baron-Cohen, R Hoekstra (2015)
Exploring the quantitative nature of empathy, systemising and autistic traits using factor mixture modelling
The British Journal of Psychiatry 207:400-406

565: R Grove, A Baillie, C Allison, S Baron-Cohen, R Hoekstra (2013)
Empathizing, Systemizing, and Autistic Traits: Latent Structure in Individuals With Autism, Their Parents, and General Population Controls
Journal of Abnormal Psychology 122(2):600-609

563: L Fonville, N Lao-Kaim, V Giampietro, F Van den Eynde, H Davies, N Lounes, C Andrew, J Dalton, A Simmons, S Williams, S Baron-Cohen, K Tchanturia (2013)
Evaluation of Enhanced Attention to Local Detail in Anorexia Nervosa Using the Embedded Figures Test; an fMRI Study
PLoS ONE 8(5):e63964

554: C. E. Robertson, D. J. Kravitz, J. Freyberg, S. Baron-Cohen, C. I. Baker (2013)
Tunnel Vision: Sharper Gradient of Spatial Attention in Autism
The Journal of Neuroscience 33(16):6776-6781

540: M Spencer, R J Holt, L R Chura, A J Calder, J Suckling, E T Bullmore, S Baron-Cohen (2012)
Atypical activation during the Embedded Figures Task as a functional magnetic resonance imaging endophenotype of autism
Brain 135:3469-3480

531: M-C Lai, M V Lombardo, B Chakrabarti, C Ecker, S A Sadek, S J Wheelwright, D G M Murphy, John Suckling, E T Bullmore, MRC AIMS Consortium, S Baron-Cohen (2012)
Individual differences in brain structure underpin empathizing–systemizing cognitive styles in male adults
NeuroImage 61:1347–1354

505: M. Roelfsema, R. Hoekstra, C. Allison, S. Wheelwright, C. Brayne, F. Matthews. S. Baron-Cohen (2012)
Are Autism Spectrum Conditions More Prevalent in an Information-Technology Region? A School-Based Study of Three Regions in the Netherlands
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 42:734-739

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