This week for Take a Test Tuesday I took the revised Systemising Quotient (SQ-R) test.
Systemizing refers to the drive to understand, construct, predict and/or control the rules of a system. Simon Baron-Cohen, in his desire to wedge autistics into his extreme male brain theory, contrasts systemizing with empathizing as the two primary ways in which humans make sense of their worlds.
The basic premise of the extreme male brain theory is that neurotypical males are better at systemizing and neurotypical females are better at empathizing. Hence, brains can be classified as either male or female according to these aptitudes. Autistic males and females are both better at systemizing, therefore, autistic people have “male brains” and autism is a condition of extreme male neurology.
Using that logic you could also make the case that female basketball players have “male bodies” (i.e. male bodies are on average taller than female bodies, female basketball players have taller bodies on average than females in general, therefore, female basketball players have “male bodies”).
Setting aside the extreme male brain theory, what can we learn from the SQ? The SQ is the subject of several research papers and each time the data show people with ASD generally scoring lower on the EQ and higher on the SQ.
The SQ attempts to measure systemizing in daily life, asking questions about how organized you are when it comes to your financial records, collections or favorite books/music. While the creators tried to avoid introducing bias in terms of subject matter, the test is still vulnerable to this. For example, I want to know the specs of new computer because that’s a topic I’m fairly familiar with.
I’m less interested in the specs of my car’s engine because that’s a subject I know (and care) little about. The same goes for knowing the species of animals and trees or the make-up of committees and governments. Those aren’t subjects I find highly interesting so regardless of how much of a systemizer I am, I’m only going to have a passing curiosity about them
Much of this still relies on personal interests, though perhaps it balances out in the end. The questions about how I bag my groceries and what my closet looks like made me laugh. I bag groceries by type because that makes them easier to put away at home. I hang my clothes in the closet by type so I can find what I’m looking for quickly.
My theory about systemizing? It all comes down to the fact that when you’re autistic, systemizing isn’t simply a preferred way of thinking, it’s a survival mechanism. Without systems and routines, we’d be constantly getting lost in the details.
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