Extreme male brain?

I first heard about autism as applied to me at the age of 52 from a psychologist I was visiting. I was being looked at for a long standing anger problem and was told that my behaviour both what I described of my life and in the interview was consistent with having Asperger’s Syndrome. This was 2012. The local health authority said there was no money available for diagnosis, but treating what I had been told all my life as anger, it looks outwardly like anger, but once I started as treating it as a meltdown, which in autism is not anger but a result of the brain being overwhelmed, that things improved.

Picture from https://blogs.bcm.edu/2017/02/24/autism-spectrum-disorder-if-not-vaccines-then-what/

It was during that interview with the psychologist that suggested Asperger’s that I was told that was introduced to the concept of autism being a form of Extreme Male Brain (EMB) as postulated by Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University in 1999, following on from Hans Asperger calling it “extreme variant of male intelligence,” in 1944. The Guardian wrote a review of the book Neurotribes by Steve Silberman in August 2015, saying:

It’s long been a puzzle that two seemingly unconnected paediatricians of Austrian origin, one based in Baltimore (Leo Kanner) and the other in Vienna (Hans Asperger), simultaneously observed the unusual behaviour of children brought to them by worried parents and coined an identical label to describe them – autistic – in 1943.

Article by Saskia Baron

The idea of EMB has its detractors. Baron-Cohen himself has said that this does not relate the whole brain but only to those areas concerned with systemising and the ability to intuit others’ emotions. But although it was a large survey, 600,000 people, including 36,874 with autism, there has been no replication of Baron-Cohen’s results. Other criticisms are that the questions asked were on ‘male subjects’ such as reading about or looking at machines. That the idea that female brains empathise and male brains systemise are not that clean cut. David Skuse, professor of behavioral and brain sciences at University College London, says that if such differences exist they are small[1].

Other Cambridge research[2] suggests from comparing the length of the second and fourth digit on hands that extreme maleness may not be significant, saying “In Mental Rotation tasks, individuals with ASD do not perform as though they have extreme versions of‘male’ brains.” However this research paper I have found uses a small sample size and therefore should be seen as initial research.

There is therefore reason to doubt the EMB theory, let us say that the jury is out. Personally I have no qualifications on psychology or neurology. I am just an autistic person trying to understand myself, as far as EMB is concerned, I don’t like it because it does not feel right, that is all. I decided to look at this in order to clarify things in my own mind, but just found a number of different conclusions from different research. I am still at square one.


[1] https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/extreme-male-brain-explained/

[2] Visuo-spatial Processing in Autism—Testing the Predictions of Extreme Male Brain Theory

3 thoughts on “Extreme male brain?

  1. I think you are more likely to have emb if your were raised by parents that were in Cs or engineering fields as that naturally predisposes you to it. Plus if your parents are possibly undiagnosed/low emotional intelligence because of those traits.

  2. It all seems so complex. Using terms like make and female immediately polarised any discussion. Does using the terms animas and animus as applied to empathy and feeling help?

    1. I understand this, but it isn’t just the feminists their supporters and the political liberal who are the main voices in opposing EMB. It is down to how you interpret the evidence that was available in 1999. Since then the number of females diagnosed is much higher than was imagined as females present autism differently to males in many cases. It is evidence from these which is leading dissent to EMB.

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