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Is autism an extreme of the male brain? Simon Baron-Cohen Autism Research Centre Cambridge University.

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Presentation on theme: "Is autism an extreme of the male brain? Simon Baron-Cohen Autism Research Centre Cambridge University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Is autism an extreme of the male brain? Simon Baron-Cohen Autism Research Centre Cambridge University

2 Triad of difficulties SocialCommunicationImagining others minds Empathizing

3 Triad of strengths Islets ofobsessionsrepetitive abilitywith systemsbehaviour Systemizing

4 The autistic spectrum: two subgroups Classic autism Classic autism  Any point on the IQ scale  Involves language delay Asperger Syndrome Asperger Syndrome  Individuals of normal IQ or above  No language delay

5 Genetics of autism Twin studies Twin studies Sibling risk rates Sibling risk rates The ‘broader phenotype’ The ‘broader phenotype’

6 Autism: the sex ratio Autism spectrum: 4:1 (male:female) Autism spectrum: 4:1 (male:female) Asperger Syndrome: 9:1 Asperger Syndrome: 9:1

7 Hans Asperger (1944) “The autistic personality is an extreme variant of male intelligence… In the autistic individual the male pattern is exaggerated to the extreme”

8 Sex vs. Gender Pre 1960’s: Pre 1960’s:  ‘Gender’ referred to the inflection of nouns 1972: 1972:  John Money distinguished ‘sex’ from ‘gender’  The John/Joan case (David Reimer) ( ) Today in the US: Today in the US:  ‘gender’ has replaced ‘sex’, as if it is a synonym

9 (At least) 6 ways to think about sex Chromosomal sex Chromosomal sex Gonadal sex Gonadal sex Brain sex Brain sex Gender identity Gender identity Gender behaviour Gender behaviour Sexual orientation Sexual orientation

10 Sex differences in the mind: the classical view  Spatial ability (right hemisphere)  males > females  Language (left hemisphere)  females > males  Mathematical ability  males > females

11 Boys > girls: Toy vehicles, constructional toys, and mechanical toys Girls > boys: Dolls, enacting social and emotional themes

12 Males > females: maths, computing, physics, engineering, tool-making Females > males: Primary school teaching, nursing, social work, counselling

13 Two psychological processes Empathizing (E) Empathizing (E)  identify a person’s thoughts and feelings  respond to these with an appropriate emotion Systemizing (S) Systemizing (S)  analyse or build a system  mechanical, natural, abstract, collectible

14 Different profiles S > E : more common in males? S > E : more common in males? E > S : more common in females? E > S : more common in females? S >> E : more common in autism? S >> E : more common in autism?

15 Empathizing

16 Systemizing

17 The Empathy Quotient (EQ): examples I really enjoy caring for people I really enjoy caring for people People often tell me I went too far in driving my point home in a discussion People often tell me I went too far in driving my point home in a discussion

18 The Empathy Quotient (max = 80) meansd Females Males AS

19 The Systemizing Quotient (SQ): examples When I listen to a piece of music, I always notice the way it’s structured When I listen to a piece of music, I always notice the way it’s structured If there was a problem with the electrical wiring in my home, I’d be able to fix it myself If there was a problem with the electrical wiring in my home, I’d be able to fix it myself

20 The Systemizing Quotient (SQ) (max = 80) meansd Females Males AS

21 Empathizing Systemizing Extreme S Type B Type E Type S Extreme E

22 Look at individuals, not their sex Scatter plot of EQ and SQ scores

23 Type E (E > S) Type B (E = S) Type S (S > E) Extreme S (S >> E) Men Women AS Percentage showing each brain type

24 sarcastic stern suspicious dispirited

25 preoccupied insisting imploring grateful

26 Eyes Test (max = 25) Eyes Test (max = 25) xsd Females Males AS Fathers Mothers

27 females > males > females fMRI whilst empathizing

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29 Finding the target (speed) meansd Females Males AS Fathers Mothers

30 Sex differences whilst systemizing

31 Eye contact at months old mean sd Girls Boys Autism5.32.2

32 Testing for sex differences in newborns

33 % of babies showing a looking preference FaceMobileEqual Girls Boys254332

34 Biological mechanisms Foetal testosterone Foetal testosterone  Animal research  Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) Genetics Genetics  Turner’s Syndrome (XO)

35 Amniocentesis: testing Geschwind’s theory Foetal testosterone influenceslateralization

36 Foetal testosterone predicts eye contact (12 m) eye contact (12 m) language (18 m) language (18 m) social relationships (48 m) social relationships (48 m) Narrow interests (48 m) Narrow interests (48 m)

37 Assortative mating of two systemizers? Both parents faster on the Embedded Figures Test Both parents faster on the Embedded Figures Test Both parents have a higher AQ Both parents have a higher AQ Both parents have higher rate of engineering among their fathers Both parents have higher rate of engineering among their fathers

38 The ‘autistic spectrum’: brain type S? Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) xs.d. AS Mathematicians Males Females

39 “The curious incident of the dog in the night” rate of autism Maths students1.8% General population0.5%

40 Empathizing Systemizing Extreme S Type B Type E Type S Extreme E Summary

41 Some of our team GeneticsLindsey Kent Psychological tests Sally Wheelwright, Ofer Golan Foetal testosteroneRebecca Knickmeyer Svetlana Lutchmaya New born babiesJennifer Connellan Anna Bakti NeuroimagingEd Bullmore, Chris Ashwin Howard Ring

42 For more information, visit

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