Empathizing and systemizing in males, females and autism: A test of the neural competition theory

Nigel Goldenfeld, Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, Chris Ashwin, Bhismadev Chakrabarti

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Empathizing and systemizing: sex differences Two key modes of thought are systemizing and empathizing (Baron-Cohen, 2002). Systemizing is the drive to understand the rules governing the behaviour of a system and the drive to construct systems that are lawful. Systemizing allows one to predict and control such systems. Empathizing is the drive to identify another person's thoughts or emotions, and to respond to their mental states with an appropriate emotion. Empathizing allows one to predict another person's behaviour at a level that is accurate enough to facilitate social interaction. A growing body of data suggests that, on average, females are better than males at empathizing, and males are better than females at systemizing (Geary, 1998; Maccoby, 1999). In this chapter, we review evidence that these abilities strongly differentiate the male and female brain types, and re-analyse some published data to show that these abilities compete, so that despite sex differences in cognitive style, there is no overall sex difference in cognitive ability. Autism Individuals with autism spectrum conditions have severe social difficulties and an ‘obsessional’ pattern of thought and behaviour (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Such diagnostic features may arise as a result of their significant disabilities in empathizing (Baron-Cohen et al., 1999, 2001a; Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright, 2003) as well as their stronger drive to systemize (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001b; Jolliffe & Baron-Cohen, 1997).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEmpathy in Mental Illness
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780511543753
ISBN (Print)0521847346, 9780521847346
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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