The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and Normal Sex Differences

Abstract

Empathy is an essential part of normal social functioning, yet there are precious few instruments for measuring individual differences in this domain. In this article we review psychological theories of empathy and its measurement. Previous instruments that purport to measure this have not always focused purely on empathy. We report a new self-report questionnaire, the Empathy Quotient (EQ), for use with adults of normal intelligence. It contains 40 empathy items and 20 filler/control items. On each empathy item a person can score 2, 1, or 0, so the EQ has a maximum score of 80 and a minimum of zero. In Study 1 we employed the EQ with n = 90 adults (65 males, 25 females) with Asperger Syndrome (AS) or high-functioning autism (HFA), who are reported clinically to have difficulties in empathy. The adults with AS/HFA scored significantly lower on the EQ than n = 90 (65 males, 25 females) age-matched controls. Of the adults with AS/HFA, 81% scored equal to or fewer than 30 points out of 80, compared with only 12% of controls. In Study 2 we carried out a study of n = 197 adults from a general population, to test for previously reported sex differences (female superiority) in empathy. This confirmed that women scored significantly higher than men. The EQ reveals both a sex difference in empathy in the general population and an empathy deficit in AS/HFA.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Reference

  1. American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

  2. Asperger, H. (1944). Die “Autistischen Psychopathen” im Kindesalter. Archiv fur Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 117, 76-136.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Astington, J., Harris, P., & Olson, D. (1988). Developing theories of mind. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bailey, T., Le Couteur, A., Gottesman, I., Bolton, P., Simonoff, E., Yuzda, E., & Rutter, M. (1995). Autism as a strongly genetic disorder: Evidence from a British twin study. Psychological Medicine, 25, 63-77.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Boston: MIT Press/Bradford Books.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Baron-Cohen, S. (2002). The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 248-254.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Baron-Cohen, S. (2003). The essential difference: Men, women and the extreme male brain. London: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Baron-Cohen, S., & Hammer, J. (1997). Is autism an extreme form of the male brain? Advances in Infancy Research, 11, 193-217.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Baron-Cohen, S., Jolliffe, T., Mortimore, C., & Robertson, M. (1997). Another advanced test of theory of mind: Evidence from very high functioning adults with autism or Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 813-822.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21, 37-46.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Baron-Cohen, S., O'Riordan, M., Jones, R., Stone, V., & Plaisted, K. (1999). A new test of social sensitivity: Detection of faux pas in normal children and children with Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 407-418.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Baron-Cohen, S., Richler, J., Bisarya, D., Gurunathan, N., & Wheelwright, S. (2003). The Systemising Quotient (SQ): An investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism and normal sex differences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, Special issue on “Autism: Mind and Brain,” 358, 361-374.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2003). The Friendship Questionnaire (FQ): An investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism, and normal sex differences. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 509-517.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Jolliffe, T. (1997). Is there a “language of the eyes”? Evidence from normal adults and adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. Visual Cognition, 4, 311-331.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Scahill, V., Lawson, J., & Spong, A. (2001a). Are intuitive physics and intuitive psychology independent? Journal of Developmental and Learning Disorders, 5, 47-78.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001b). The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger syndrome/high functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 5-17.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Batson, C. D. (1991). The altruism question: Toward a socialpsychological answer. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Blair, R. J. (1995). A cognitive developmental approach to mortality: Investigating the psychopath. Cognition, 57, 1-29.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Blair, R. J., Jones, L., Clark, F., & Smith, M. (1997). The psychopathic individual: A lack of responsiveness to distress cues? Psychophysiology, 34, 192-198.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Bolton, P., & Rutter, M. (1990). Genetic influences in autism. International Review of Psychiatry, 2, 67-80.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Chapin, F. S. (1942). Preliminary standardization of a social insight scale. American Sociological Review, 7, 214-225.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Cronbach, L. J. (1955). Processes affecting scores on understanding of others and assuming “similarity.” Psychological Bulletin, 52, 177-193.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Davis, M. H. (1994). Empathy: A social psychological approach. CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Davis, M. H., & Franzoi, S. L. (1991). Stability and change in adolescent self-consciousness and empathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 25, 70-87.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Dennett, D. (1987). The intentional stance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Dymond, R. F. (1949). A scale for the measurement of empathic ability. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 13, 127-133.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Dymond, R. F. (1950). Personality and empathy. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 14, 343-350.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Eisenberg, N., & Miller, P. A. (1987). Empathy and prosocial behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 91-119.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Folstein, S., & Rutter, M. (1977). Infantile autism: A genetic study of 21 twin pairs. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 18, 297-321.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Folstein, S., & Rutter, M. (1988). Autism: Familial aggregation and genetic implications. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 3-30.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Fonagy, P., Steele, H., Steele, M., & Holder, J. (1997). Attachment and theory of mind: Overlapping constructs? ACPP Occasional Papers, 14, 31-40.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Frith, U. (1991). Autism and Asperger's syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Gillberg, C. (1991). Clinical and neurobiological aspects of Asperger syndrome in six family studies. In U. Frith (Ed.), Autism and Asperger syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Gillberg, C. (1992). The Emanuel Miller Lecture, 1991: Autism and autistic-like conditions: Subclasses among disorders of empathy. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 813-842.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Hall, J. A. (1978). Gender effects in decoding nonverbal cues. Psychological Bulletin, 85, 845-858.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Happe, F. (1994). An advanced test of theory of mind: Understanding of story characters' thoughts and feelings by able autistic, mentally handicapped, and normal children and adults. Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, 24, 129-154.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Hoffman, M. L. (1977). Sex differences in empathy and related behaviors. Psychological Bulletin, 84, 712-722.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Hoffman, M. L. (1984). Interaction of affect and cognition in empathy. In C. E. Izard & R. B. Kagan (Eds.), Emotions, cognition, and behavior (pp. 103-131). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Hogan, R. (1969). Development of an empathy scale. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 33, 307-316.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Johnson, J. A., Cheek, J. M., & Smither, R. (1983). The structure of empathy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 1299-1312.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Kerr, W. A., & Speroff, B. G. (1954). Validation and evaluation of the empathy test. Journal of General Psychology, 50, 369-376.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Klin, A., Volkmar, F., Sparrow, S., Cicchetti, D., & Rourke, B. (1995). Validity and neuropsychological characterization of Asperger syndrome: Convergence with nonverbal learning disabilities syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 36, 1127-1140.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Kohler, W. (1929). Gestalt psychology. New York: Liveright.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretence and representation: The origins of “theory of mind.” Psychological Review, 94, 412-426.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Mehrabian, A., & Epstein, N. (1972). A measure of emotional empathy. Journal of Personality, 40, 525-543.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Mehrabian, A., Young, A. L., & Sato, S. (1988). Emotional empathy and associated individual differences. Current Psychology: Research & Reviews, 7, 221-240.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Perner, J., Frith, U., Leslie, A. M., & Leekam, S. (1989). Exploration of the autistic child's theory of mind: Knowledge, belief, and communication. Child Development, 60, 689-700.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Smith, A. (1759). The theory of moral sentiments (Republished 1976 ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Stotland, E. (1969). Exploratory investigations of empathy. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 271-314). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Stotland, E., Sherman, S., & Shaver, K. (1971). Empathy and birth order: Some experimental explorations. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Titchener, E. (1909). Elementary psychology of the thought processes. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Wechsler, D. (1958). Sex differences in intelligence: The Measurement and Appraisal of Adult Intelligence. Baltimore: Williams & Wilking.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Wellman, H. (1990). Children's theories of mind. Bradford: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Whiten, A. (1991). Natural theories of mind. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Wing, L. (1981). Asperger syndrome: A clinical account. Psychological Medicine, 11, 115-130.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Wing, L. (1988). The autistic continuum. In L. Wing (Ed.), Aspects of autism: Biological research. London: Gaskell/Royal College of Psychiatrists.

    Google Scholar 

  60. World Health Organization (1994). International classification of diseases (10th ed.). Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

  61. Yirmiya, N., Sigman, M., Kasari, C., & Mundy, P. (1992). Empathy and cognition in high functioning children with autism. Child Development, 63, 150-160.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S. The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and Normal Sex Differences. J Autism Dev Disord 34, 163–175 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JADD.0000022607.19833.00

Download citation

  • Empathy
  • sex differences
  • Asperger syndrome
  • social difficulties