THE CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE AGED WHITE BRITISH MIDDLE CLASS BRAIN
Let’s look at some more examples from the Systemising Quotient that Simon Baron-Cohen uses to ascertain if you have the “male brain:”
“4. I prefer to read non-fiction than fiction.”
In order to be able to score points towards systemising you have not only to be literate (and outside the affluent classes of the West, illiteracy is common), but enough of a reader to have a genre preference. And then, what about computer programmers who like to read fiction in their free time? Don’t they have systemising brains?
“7. If there was a problem with the electrical wiring in my home, Iʼd be able to fix it myself.”
As well as highly gendered, this question can only test for systemising in people with homes with wiring. A large proportion of the global population live without electricity in their homes. And what about the homeless? Apparently they can’t systemise. Or, for that matter, what about people who have only ever rented? You probably get more involved with the wiring if you’re a homeowner, or grew up with parents who were homeowners…
“11. I rarely read articles or Web pages about new technology.”
You have to disagree with this one to get points, which means that in order to qualify for the systemising brain you have to have internet access – which, again, a large proportion of the global population do not.
“18. I find it difficult to understand instruction manuals for putting appliances together.”
You have to have buying power as well be literate in order to have a systemising brain.
“19. When I look at an animal, I like to know the precise species it belongs to.”
You have to have learned about Linnaean Taxonomy in order to score points.
“24. I find it difficult to read and understand maps.”
You are more likely to have been born with the male brain if you later became a scout or if your school offered the Duke of Edinburgh Awards as an extracuricular activity.
“29. When I read the newspaper, I am drawn to tables of information, such as football scores or stock market indices.”
Again, you must be literate, but you must also be interested in football – which, as I suggested in my last post, may have very little to do with systemising – because I rather doubt that many people are interested in these tables unless they are interested in the information communicated by them. So it would seem that you are more likely to have been born with the male brain if you will one day have enough money to buy stocks.
“30. When I learn a language, I become intrigued by its grammatical rules.”
You have to have learned at least one foreign language in order to have the systemising brain. Not only that, but you must have studied it formally so as to gain exposure to its grammatical rules. In short, you need to have gone to a good school to have the male brain.
“32. I do not tend to watch science documentaries on television or read articles about science and nature.”
I haven’t been able to find a study on this, but I suspect that country, age, socio-economic and educational background all have something to do with how likely you are to watch science documentaries – let alone own a television or computer to watch with. By way of anecodotal evidence I would point out that lately I have been watching and reading more documentaries and articles and books about science than I used to. Health scare: has my brain changed type this year?
And again, you should also be literate to have the male brain. But until someone produces the data to prove otherwise, I remain unconvinced that all mathematicians, knitters, tailors and computer programmers are thrilled by science documentaries.
“34. I find it easy to grasp exactly how odds work in betting.”
I have never tried to grasp how odds work in betting, so I’ll lose systemising points. But if now I did try to learn how odds work, and found it easy, would I suddenly change brain type?
“41. When traveling by train, I often wonder exactly how the rail networks are coordinated.”
You have to live in a country with a rail network in order to have a systemising brain.
“51. When Iʼm in a plane, I do not think about the aerodynamics.”
You have to have travelled by aeroplane to have a systemising brain. That rules out all the people without money for air travel, most of those without passports, and anyone who died before air travel became common.
“56. I do not read legal documents very carefully.”
Literacy and living a lifestyle that involves legal documents is a prerequisite for having been born with the male brain – which rules out a huge proportion of the world’s population, including most of my friends in Uganda.
A bit of brevity and levity for today’s post. Nevertheless, it should demonstrate that the Systemising Quotient is not a tool with which to accurately diagnose “brain type” across ages, cultures and socio-economic groups – not to mention across a single individual’s life span. Interests, habits and even aptitudes change over the course of a life. If empathising and systemising really do “depend on independent sets of regions in the human brain,”1 this sort of questionnaire isn’t going to locate those regions.
1 Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism (New York, 2003), p.16.