E-S Theory

2brainsWhat Is It?

There are so many interesting topics in psychology that it’s difficult for me to choose. I find this theory particularly interesting as it focuses on two distinct brain types and cognitive sex differences. The E stands for empathizing and the S stands for systemizing. It was developed by Simon Baron-Cohen.

He found that fetal testosterone exposure is positively correlated with scores on the systematizing quotient (SQ) and negatively correlated with scores on the empathizing quotient (EQ). The fetal testosterone factor is where gender comes into play. Males experience higher levels of fetal testosterone exposure. They also score, on average, higher on the SQ. Women score, on average, higher on the EQ. Baron-Cohen found that 53 percent of men have systemizing brains, 17 percent have empathizing brains, and 24 percent are roughly balanced. The remaining 6 percent have an extreme male brain. This extreme male brain behavior he labeled as autistic. 44 percent of women have empathizing brains, 17 percent have systemizing brains, and 35 percent have brains that are roughly balanced. Four percent exhibit an “extreme female brain” type.


Ok, So What?

This theory is not bulletproof (no theories are) and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be questioned. But the research is there and what it supports is very interesting. Empathizing brains are better at interpreting and expressing emotions. They see need in others without being told about it and have a desire to fix it. Systemizing brains are attracted to…systems. Go figure. Systems are anything that follows rules. A rule is a repeating, lawful pattern. Systemizing brains desire to know what any given outcome will be if a certain manipulation is made to the system.

Not sure how exactly this fits in but it made me smile.There’s a reason many guys love sports. What are sports but a set of systems? The rules of the game itself, the physics involved in making a tackle or shooting a jump shot, etc. Systemizing brains like math and science over more nebulous subjects like English. The stereotype of the socially awkward genius comes to mind here but actually, systemizing people tend to excel in the type of socializing the business world requires. This is because they’ve figured out the system of social interaction and can manipulate their way through it. Systemizing brains don’t excel at deep connections, however. That’s the empathizing brain’s domain. Baron-Cohen and his team identified 412 emotions (I don’t know if this is exhaustive, but it’s what they found). Empathizers tend to have a knack for language so they can interpret and express all of these emotions well.

So women, if you’ve ever known a guy who is very driven and meticulous, worked in a field involving mathematics or science, was considered brilliant, and failed completely when it came to emotional expression then he probably had a systemizing brain. Guys if you’re girlfriend gets discouraged (read: testy) because you won’t open up, it’s not your fault. But it’s not her fault either. Even though gender has a relationship with the two types (and a strong one at that), it’s not a perfect correlation (obviously) and shouldn’t be viewed as such. The previous two examples could take place in any relationship regardless of either party’s gender.

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