Newly published research out of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge has found that a person's sex and the type of job they have strongly corresponds to the number of autistic personality traits that they have.
It's estimated that 1% of the world's total population is living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. According to the CDC, here in the U.S., one in every 68 children born are diagnosed as being on the spectrum and about 3.5 million Americans are thought to be autistic.
Difficulties with social interaction, communication, and empathy for others are commonly understood to be the hallmarks of various forms of autism, but a person doesn't necessarily need to be autistic to exhibit those personality traits. This study, led by PhD candidate Emily Ruzich and Cambridge professor Simon Baron-Cohen, measured participants' Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) with a survey of 50 questions corresponding to an autism-related trait.
The study, the largest of its kind to date, tracked the responses of half a million people who administered a self-test made public online in a partnership with Channel 4.
The study found that, by and large, men were likely to have higher AQ scores than women (21.6 vs. 19.0, respectively) and that people working in STEM-related fields of work had higher scores than those working in other fields (21.9 vs. 18.9.)
“I am pleased that such big data was available to test these questions," Ruzich said of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE. "They provide clear evidence that autistic traits are sex-linked and STEM-linked and this will encourage further research into why these associations are seen.”
It's important to point out that while the test in no way quantifies mental aptitude or acuity, it does measure the degree to which these groups display the quirks we typically associate with left-brain types.
“Previous studies have found the number of autistic traits a person has is influenced by both genetic factors and prenatal testosterone levels," explained Baron-Cohen. "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.”