Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Whose Brain Is That?

A couple of neat links: first, "In Our Time," a program on BBC's Radio 4, is having a contest to determine history's greatest philosopher. They've got it down to a shortlist of 20 -- apparently, some douchebags determined that Karl Popper beats Locke, Rousseau, and Hegel -- but the real treat is listening to the brief audio commentaries on each philosopher, where some learned British voice tells you why, say, Thomas Aquinas should be the greatest philosopher of all time. Cool stuff.

The second link, from The Guardian UK, features a diagnostic test you can take online, developed by Simon Baron-Cohen (no, not Sasha Baron-Cohen), which he's used to support his theory of brain differences among males and females. It also apparently can help diagnose high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome.

The test comes in two parts: the first tests your brain's capacity for empathy, the second your capacity for systematization. Baron-Cohen's thesis (supported thus far by his research data) suggests that women on average tend to be empathizers, while men tend to be systematizers. What goes wrong in Asperger syndrome is an extreme and crippling tendency towards systematization and away from empathy -- in this context, a hypertrophy of typically male traits.

Both tests are questionnaires, with the standard "strongly agree," "slightly disagree," choices. I noticed that the empathy quotient test seemed, at least to me, fairly gender-neutral -- it's mostly about how you respond in social situations, with a few questions about animals and long-term friendships, etc. The systemizing quotient test, on the other hand, had more than a few questions that seemed pretty gendered -- whether you read lots of articles about science and technology, what kinds of research you would do before buying a computer, camera, or stereo, whether you can make sense of a map, and so on -- typical boy stuff. It would be interesting to see, should someone could come up with a new questionnaire, whether they could replicate Baron-Cohen's results.

As for myself, either I'm too self-conscious about these sorts of questions, or I'm some kind of systematically empathizing freak -- I scored a 62 out of 80 on the empathy quotient (average for a women is 47, men 42), and a 67 out of 80 on the systematizing quotient (the average for men is 30, women 24). On the last one, I probably lost points because I said I preferred reading fiction to nonfiction. What are you going to do?

1 comment:

Gavin said...

Yeah, but you're way too smart to take those sort of personality tests anyway. If you can see where the line of questioning is going, then you've basically disqualified yourself.

Besides, I've seen you systemize. But I've also seen you non-systemized. And you have a gift for both. :-)