More than maths and mindreading: Sex differences in empathizing/systemizing covariance



Empathizing–Systemizing theory posits a continuum of cognitive traits extending from autism into normal cognitive variation. Covariance data on empathizing and systemizing traits have alternately suggested inversely dependent, independent, and sex-dependent (one sex dependent, the other independent) structures. A total of 144 normal undergraduates (65 men, 79 women) completed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes, Embedded Figures, and Benton face recognition tests, the Autism Spectrum Quotient, and measures of digit length ratio and field of study; some also completed tests of motion coherence threshold (64) and go/no-go motor inhibition (128). Empathizing and systemizing traits were independent in women, but largely dependent in men. In men, level of systemizing skill required by field of study was directly related to social interactive and mindreading deficits; men's social impairments correlated with prolonged go/no-go response times, and men tended to apply systemizing strategies to solve problems of empathizing or global processing: rapid perceptual disembedding predicted heightened sensitivity to facial emotion. In women, level of systemizing in field was related to male-typical digit ratios and autistic superiorities in detail orientation, but not to autistic social and communicative impairments; and perceptual disembedding was related to social interactive skills but independent of facial emotion and visual motion perception.