Cambridge University researchers have claimed that both men and women with autism show an extreme of the typical male pattern on the 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes', providing strong support for the 'extreme male brain' theory of autism.
Lead researcher Simon Baron-Cohen found that while typical adults showed the predicted and now well-established sex difference on this test, women on average scoring higher than men, in adults with autism this typical sex difference was conspicuously absent. In the study, 400 men and women with autism took a test online, which entails looking at a series of photographs of just the eye region of the face, and picking which of 4 words best describe what the person in the photo is thinking or feeling.
The 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' test has been used in hundreds of studies worldwide, showing reliable sex differences in typical individuals, with women on average scoring higher than men, and showing that people with autism score lower on average than people without autism. The team investigated whether men and women with autism perform differently on this test, and used it to evaluate the 'extreme male brain' theory of autism, in the largest study to date.
The theory predicted that on tests of empathy, typical females will score higher than typical males, who in turn will score higher than people with autism. The results confirmed this pattern. Senior author Meng-Chuan Lai said that there were substantial individual differences in terms of how well a person with autism performs on the Eyes test, but the social difficulties of both men and women were reflected on their test scores.
Lia added that women with autism differed more from typical women than men with autism differed from typical men, and added that the relationship between autism and sex and gender was becoming an important topic for autism research. The study is published in the Journal PLOS ONE