The day I realised I was broken

It was years ago and I was relatively unsuspecting. I was on my way to a talk by Simon Baron-Cohen about his theory of how autism might be understood as an extreme version of the male brain. At the time, I had gone back to college and was studying autism as part of my coursework.

Before I arrived at the talk I took two personality tests devised by Baron-Cohen — one testing empathy and the other the tendency to be systematic. His research showed that women score higher on the former and men on the latter and that autistic people score very high on the latter and very low on the former (hence autism might be understood as an extreme version of the male brain.)

I expected to score normal-to-high on empathy, but had no opinion about my systematising tendencies. No major surprises on the empathy test.

Your score: 59

0 – 32 = low (most people with autism score about 20)
33 – 52 = average (most women score about 47 and most men score about 42)
53 – 63 is above average
64 – 80 is very high

High enough for it to be a part of my personality people notice, but not so high that I can’t function.

The empathy test asks questions like When I was a child, I enjoyed cutting up worms to see what would happen (not so empathetic) and  I am quick to spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable (empathetic).

Now I don’t know if Simon’s research finds that people’s empathy versus systemizing scores are inversely proportionate, but I assumed this was likely the case and was prepared for a below average systemizing score. Until I got my results.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I AM ONLY 4? I said aloud. To my computer.

This isn’t below average, this is … well … deformed!!

Your score: 4
0 – 19 = low
20 – 39 = average (most women score about 24 and most men score about 30)
40 – 50 = above average (most people with autism score in this range)
51 – 80 is very high (three times as many people with Asperger Syndrome score in this range, compared to typical men, and almost no women score in this range)

I was shocked. Surely I should’ve hit the teens? I re-took the test this morning, and after several years I’ve now reach the dizzy heights of 7.

That I have issues being systematic was something I had been vaguely aware of … but I would have viewed it differently. I simply thought I had trouble with commitment. To me there are many ways to approach tasks and categorise things and organise stuff. And it’s hard for me to stick with one. (I’ve also been told by a computer simulation game that I am neither right brained nor left brained but centre brained which apparently is very useful for seeing things from all angles but disastrous when it comes to keeping things simple and structured.)

As for other things that might’ve revealed my systemizing handicap, well I simply have far better things to do than unbuild and rebuild television sets. Therefore I had no idea that my systemizing troubles were so extensive until the day I took Simon’s test.

Which brings me, in a very round about way, to this week’s assignment from the Eight of Diamonds. My task is to get a grip on “the air miles situation”.

I have never been systematic in tracking my air miles with any of the airline groups that I might have them with and have never once used air miles to pay for a flight.

For some of you out there this will border on the criminally insane. I travel A LOT. Not as much as some people I work with, but A LOT. And therefore it’s possible that

A. I could’ve accrued vast amounts of miles over the many, many years I’ve been flying

B. I’ve spent a small empire’s worth of cash for flights that I could’ve got for free.

Maybe? From what I hear it’s really not very easy at all to get the flight you need or want using miles. This has been my justification for years. But there’s also the small matter of mom. By using the same charge card for almost everything she spends, mom collects piles of  miles and she routinely insists on using these miles to fly me over to see her in Boston. Which makes me wonder a) how she manages to do so well with miles and b) whether in giving them to me she is leaving herself high and dry for the flights she needs to book for herself (something she refuses to admit).

And so it is time, that despite my severe handicap in the systemizing department, that I tackle the mess of my air miles and work out a simple method to stay on top of them and use them to spare my bank account and my mother’s stockpile. Clearly, I may need some help from my more savvy/systemizing friends to accomplish this. You know who you are.

* * *
Simon’s tests are quick, take them here: empathy test & systemizing test

6 thoughts on “The day I realised I was broken

  1. I often wonder about my little one “systemizing”. I am worried that she will live in a terrible messy apartment someday because she can’t systemize. I am interested in this test. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your smooth writing style.

    1. Hi — yes I took these tests online — see the final line in the post, let me know if those links don’t work for you. Thank you for the compliment!

      As for your little one, well, as someone who scored very low on being systematic it doesn’t necessarily lead to one big mess though it’s true I am not the neatest person in the world!! What it does suggest — if your child ends up struggling with being systematic is that they’ll make up for it in other ways and should probably avoid a line of work where this would cost them — I’m thinking about becoming an accountant or maybe a lawyer or an architect. But I’m just making this up and am no expert!

  2. Have you read Delusions of Gender? It contains (among other things) an interesting critique of Baron-Cohen’s whole male brain/female brain dichotomy. If I recall, it doesn’t claim that different personality types don’t exist, but more that classifying them into male and female is based on our cultural perceptions of what men and women should be like.

  3. I don’t know it — thank you! will check it out. Certainly the test questions — for both the empathy and the systemizing versions — do read like lists of things we might expect are more or less likely of women vs men though instinctively i feel there is some truth to the division beyond the cultural effect

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