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Brief Report: Development of the Adolescent Empathy and Systemizing Quotients

Abstract

Adolescent versions of the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient (SQ) were developed and administered to n = 1,030 parents of typically developing adolescents, aged 12–16 years. Both measures showed good test–retest reliability and high internal consistency. Girls scored significantly higher on the EQ, and boys scored significantly higher on the SQ. A sample of adolescents with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) (n = 213) scored significantly lower on the EQ, and significantly higher on the SQ, compared to typical boys. Similar patterns of sex differences and cognitive brain types are observed in children, adolescents and adults, suggesting from cross-sectional studies that the behaviours measured by age-appropriate versions of the EQ and SQ are stable across time. Longitudinal studies would be useful to test this stability in the future. Finally, relative to typical sex differences, individuals with ASC, regardless of age, on average exhibit a ‘hyper-masculinized’ profile.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by a grant from the MRC to SBC and was conducted in association with the NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. We are grateful to the families who gave their time to participate in this study. We are also grateful to Nigel Goldenfeld, Jac Billington, Johnny Lawson and Bhismadev Chakrabarti for useful discussions.

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Correspondence to Bonnie Auyeung.

Appendices

Appendix 1: The Adolescent EQ

Please read each statement very carefully and rate how strongly you agree or disagree with it by ticking the box that best describes your child.

 

   Strongly agree Slightly agree Slightly disagree Strongly disagree
1. My child can easily tell if someone else wants to enter a conversation     
2. My child finds it difficult to explain to others things that s/he understands easily, when they don’t understand it the first time     
3. My child really enjoys caring for other people     
4. My child finds it hard to know what to do in a social situation     
5. My child often goes too far in driving his/her point home in a discussion     
6. It doesn’t bother my child too much if s/he is late meeting a friend     
7. Friendships and relationships are just too difficult, so my child tends not to bother with them     
8. My child often finds it difficult to judge if something is rude or polite     
9. In a conversation, my child tends to focus on his/her own thoughts rather than on what his/her listener might be thinking     
10. When s/he was younger, my child enjoyed cutting up worms to see what would happen     
11. My child can pick up quickly if someone says one thing but means another     
12. It is hard for my child to see why some things upset people so much     
13. My child finds it easy to put him/herself in somebody else’s shoes     
14. My child is good at predicting how someone will feel     
15. My child is quick to spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable     
16. If my child says something that someone else is offended by, s/he thinks that that’s their problem, not his/hers     
17. If anyone asked my child if s/he liked their haircut, s/he would reply truthfully, even if s/he didn’t like it     
18. My child can’t always see why someone should have felt offended by a remark     
19. Seeing people cry doesn’t really upset my child     
20. My child is very blunt, which some people take to be rudeness, even though this is unintentional     
21. My child doesn’t tend to find social situations confusing     
22. My child is good at understanding how people are feeling and what they are thinking     
23. When my child talks to other people, s/he tends to talk about the other person’s experience rather than his/her own     
24. It upsets my child to see an animal in pain     
25. My child is able to make decisions without being influenced by people’s feelings     
26. My child can easily tell if someone else is interested or bored with what s/he is saying     
27. My child gets upset if s/he sees people suffering on news programmes     
28. His/her friends usually talk to my child about their problems as they say that s/he is very understanding     
29. My child can sense if s/he is intruding, even if the other person doesn’t tell him/her     
30. My child sometimes goes too far with teasing     
31. My child is often insensitive, though s/he doesn’t always see why     
32. If my child saw a stranger in a group, s/he would think that it is up to them to make an effort to join in     
33. My child usually stays emotionally detached when watching a film     
34. My child can tune into how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively     
35. My child can easily work out what another person might want to talk about     
36. My child can tell if someone is masking their true emotion     
37. My child doesn’t consciously work out the rules of social situations     
38. My child is good at predicting what someone will do     
39. My child tends to get emotionally involved with a friend’s problems     
40. My child can usually appreciate the other person’s viewpoint, even if s/he doesn’t agree with it     

Scoring

A response of ‘slightly agree’ scores one point and ‘definitely agree’ scores two points on the following items: 1, 3, 11, 13, 14, 15, 21, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39 and 40. A response of ‘slightly disagree’ or ‘definitely disagree’ scores zero points. ‘Slightly disagree’ scores one point and ‘definitely disagree’ scores two points on the following items: 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 30, 31, 32 and 33. A response of ‘slightly agree’ or ‘definitely agree’ scores zero points. The maximum score for this questionnaire is 70. Excluded items are shown in italics and do not contribute towards the total score.

Appendix 2: The Adolescent SQ

Please read each statement very carefully and rate how strongly you agree or disagree with it by ticking the box that best describes your child.

 

   Strongly agree Slightly agree Slightly disagree Strongly disagree
1. My child finds it very easy to use train timetables, even if this involves several connections     
2. My child likes music or book shops because they are clearly organised     
3. My child would not enjoy organising events e.g. parties     
4. When my child reads something, s/he always notices whether it is grammatically correct     
5. My child categorises people into types (in his/her own mind)     
6. My child finds it difficult to read and understand maps     
7. When my child looks at a bridge s/he does not think about how precisely it was made     
8. My child finds it difficult to learn how to programme video recorders     
9. When my child likes something, s/he likes to collect a lot of different examples of that type of object, so s/he can see how they differ from each other     
10. When my child learns a language, s/he becomes intrigued by its grammatical rules     
11. My child is not interested in the details of the weather forecast each day e.g. pressure, temperature, windspeed, etc     
12. If my child had a collection (e.g. CDs, coins, stamps), it would be highly organised     
13. When my child looks at a building, s/he is not curious about the precise way it was constructed     
14. My child is not interested in understanding how wireless communication works (e.g. mobile phones)     
15. My child enjoys looking through catalogues of products to see the details of each product and how it compares to others     
16. My child knows, with reasonable accuracy, how much money s/he has spent and how much s/he has got left of his/her pocket money or allowance     
17. When my child was younger s/he did not enjoy collecting sets of things e.g. stickers, football cards etc     
18. My child is interested in the family tree and in understanding how everyone is related to each other in the family     
19. When my child learns about historical events, s/he does not focus on exact dates     
20. My child does not enjoy games that involve a high degree of strategy (e.g. chess, risk, games workshop)     
21. When my child learns about a new category s/he likes to go into detail to understand the small differences between different members of that category     
22. My child does not find it distressing if people who live with him/her upset his/her routines     
23. When my child looks at an animal, s/he likes to know the precise species it belongs to     
24. My child can remember large amounts of information about a topic that interests him/her e.g. flags of the world, airline logos     
25. At school, my child does not carefully file all his/her work     
26. My child is fascinated by how machines work     
27. When my child looks at a piece of furniture, s/he does not notice the details of how it was constructed     
28. My child does not try to work out the rules for what to say and do in different social situations     
29. My child does not tend to watch science documentaries on television or read articles about science and nature     
30. My child would be able to give directions to most parts of town     
31. When my child looks at a painting, s/he does not usually think about the technique involved in making it     
32. My child prefers social interactions that are structured around a clear activity, e.g. a hobby     
33. My child is interested in knowing the path a river takes from its source to the sea     
34. My child is a collector (e.g. of books, coins, etc.)     
35. My child’s clothes are not carefully organised into different types in his/her wardrobe     
36. My child rarely reads articles or webpages about new technology     
37. My child does not particularly enjoy learning about facts and figures in history     
38. My child does not tend to remember people’s birthdays (in terms of which day and month this falls)     
39. When my child is walking in the country, s/he is curious about how the various kinds of trees differ     
40. If my child was getting a camera, s/he would not look carefully into the quality of the lens     
41. If my child was getting a computer, s/he would want to know exact details about its hard drive capacity and processor speed     
42. My child does not follow any particular system when tidying his/her room     
43. If my child was getting a stereo, s/he would want to know about its precise technical features     
44. My child tends to keep things that other people might throw away, in case they might be useful for something in the future     
45. My child avoids situations which s/he can not control     
46. My child does not care to know the names of the plants s/he sees     
47. When my child hears the weather forecast, s/he is not very interested in the meteorological patterns     
48. It does not bother my child if things in the house are not in their proper place     
49. In maths, my child is intrigued by the rules and patterns governing numbers     
50. My child finds it difficult to learn his/her way around a new city     
51. My child could list his/her favourite 10 books, recalling titles and authors’ names from memory     
52. My child prefers to read fiction than non-fiction     
53. When my child has a lot of shopping to do, s/he likes to plan which shops s/he is going to visit and in what order     
54. When my child listens to a piece of music, s/he always notice the way it’s structured     
55. My child could generate a list of his/her favourite 10 songs from memory, including the title and the artist’s name who performed each song     

Scoring

A response of ‘slightly agree’ scores one point and ‘definitely agree’ scores two points on the following items: 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 12, 15, 16, 21, 23, 24, 26, 30, 32, 33, 34, 39, 41, 43, 49, 51, 53, 54 and 55. A response of ‘slightly disagree’ or ‘definitely disagree’ scores zero points. ‘Slightly disagree’ scores one point and ‘definitely disagree’ scores two points on the following items: 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 17, 19, 20, 27, 29, 36, 37, 42, 46 and 47. A response of ‘slightly agree’ or ‘definitely agree’ scores zero points. The maximum score for this questionnaire is 78. Excluded items are shown in italics and do not contribute to the total score.

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Auyeung, B., Allison, C., Wheelwright, S. et al. Brief Report: Development of the Adolescent Empathy and Systemizing Quotients. J Autism Dev Disord 42, 2225–2235 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1454-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1454-7

Keywords

  • Empathy
  • Systemizing
  • Autism
  • Sex differences
  • Adolescents