30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
Extreme male brains
Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen argues that men tend to be ’systematizers’, who attempt to understand the world through the rules by which individual parts interact, while women are better ’empathizers’, who are more able to understand the emotions of others. The division, however, is not absolute, but a general trend. Baron-Cohen has collected evidence that, for example, girls can pick up on others’ emotions earlier than boys, while boys can make sense of objects and spatial information at an earlier age. People with autism or a variant, such as Asperger’s syndrome, can be severely impaired at understanding how others think, feel and behave but can be much better at understanding systems. Even in those with learning disabilities, this tendency can express itself as a ’special interest’ in something such as a transport system, sports statistics or electrical wiring, while, in other cases, it can appear as an exceptional ability in maths, science or computers. Baron-Cohen suspects that people with autism may have been exposed to an excess of testosterone before birth that caused the systematizing tendency to operate at full volume with empathizing barely present. According to Baron-Cohen, this might also explain why autism and its variants are much more common in males.
Autism is an exaggeration of certain male-typical traits, most notably ’systematizing’ — a tendency to try to understand things by their component parts.
Alternative theories suggest that the autistic brain might have a general difficulty with making sense of the ’big picture’ or that the process of coordinating different mental functions may not be operating smoothly. Indeed, the diagnoses of ’autism’ and ’Asperger’s syndrome’ involve social impairment, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviours and there is now good evidence that these difficulties are not caused by the same things — so the whole picture is likely to be more complex than just systematizing.
If you seriously enjoy taking watches and radios to bits to find out how they work, then you’re a high scorer in what Baron-Cohen calls ’systematizing’ — a stereotypically male trait that is often exhibited by people with autism.