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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Scientists and mathematicians test higher on autism spectrum, says Cambridge University

Photo: Sarah Knapton
"Academics really are wired differently, testing higher on the autism spectrum which makes them better at 'systems thinking'." according to Sarah Knapton, Telegraph's Science Editor

Isaac Netwon may have been autistic, academics believe. 

For people baffled as to how scientists and mathematicians come up with such novel ideas, a new study suggests they are higher on the autism spectrum making them far better at logical thinking and seeing the bigger picture.

New research which tested nearly 500,000 people for autism traits and compared it to their jobs found those in involved in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) have more autistic traits.

Autistic traits are not the same as having a diagnosis of autism; instead, these are characteristics of personality and behaviour that are found throughout the general population and are linked to what is seen in the clinical condition of autism.

Everyone has some autistic traits – such as difficulty in taking another person’s point of view, difficulty in switching attention flexibly, and excellent attention to detail – and there is a wide range in the population.

The University of Cambridge has developed a way of measuring these, using a questionnaire called the Autism Spectrum Quotient, or AQ which comprises 50 questions, each one representing one autistic trait.

They found that people working in a STEM-related job had an average AQ score of 21.9 compared to a score of 18.9 for individuals working in non-STEM jobs. Previously Cambridge University has suggested that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton were both autistic. 

The study also backed up previous findings showing that men are more likely to be higher on the autism spectrum than women.

Photo: Simon Baron-Cohen
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge said: “Previous studies have found the number of autistic traits a person has is influenced by both genetic factors and prenatal testosterone levels.

“These may shed light on why we find males in the population on average have slightly more autistic traits than females do, and why fathers and grandfathers of children with autism are over-represented in STEM fields.”

The research, which was published in PLOS One, was carried out with Channel 4 for the programme Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic. 
Read more... 

Additional resources
Sex and STEM Occupation Predict Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) Scores in Half a Million People. PLOS ONE; 21 October 2015 
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141229


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