‘Intuitive Systemizing’ in Autism: Self-Reported Systemizing Drive Is Related to Ability to Solve Logical Problems but Not to Conscious Understanding of Logical Reasoning

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
C. Singleton1, C. Ashwin2 and M. Brosnan3, (1)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (2)University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (3)Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been characterised as a drive towards systemizing—understanding and predicting non-social rule-based systems—and away from empathizing—a drive towards social-emotional processing. The Dual Process Theory of Autism proposes that systemizing bias could be explained as a general drive towards deliberative processing, which is characterised as slow, effortful, and conscious, while empathizing is explained by a general bias towards intuitive processing, which is fast, autonomous, effortless and non-conscious. Previous research, however, has found neurological and physiological responses to non-social stimuli in autism that resemble responses to the social in the neurotypical population, indicating there may be an affective component to non-social processing in autism. Enhanced systemizing in autism and enhanced empathizing in the general population may therefore be explained by a bias towards ‘intuitive’ processing for the non-social and social domains, respectively, with an inherent intuitive bias towards one domain or the other conferring an advantage in understanding and predicting that domain.

Objectives: To investigate self-reported systemizing drive, logical reasoning ability, and reasoning processes in an autistic group and neurotypical (NT) controls.

Methods: 30 participants with autism (24 male, 6 female, ages 18-54, mean 22, SD 3) and 34 neurotypical participants (21 male, 13 female, ages 18-66, mean 22, SD 8.5) completed the Systemizing Quotient-short (SQ) to measure self-reported drive to systemize and the Test of Logical Thinking (TOLT), which includes two scores, one for the correct solution to a logical problem (TOLT Solution score) and one for understanding the correct reasoning process to arrive at the correct solution (TOLT Reasoning score).

Results: Across both groups, SQ was positively correlated with TOLT solution score (r=.386, p=.002) but not with TOLT reasoning score (r=.115, p=.364). The autism group (M=9.97, SD=3.62) performed significantly better than the NT group (M=7.76, SD=2.99) on the TOLT Solution score (t(62)=2.664, p=.01) but there were no significant group differences in TOLT reasoning score (t(62)=.440, p=.661). The mean difference between TOLT Solution and TOLT Reasoning scores for the autism group were almost twice that of the NT group (ASD mean=4.13, SD=4; NT mean=2.21, SD=2; t(62)=2.496, p=.015). The mean difference between TOLT scores was significantly positively correlated with SQ across the whole autism/NT sample (r=.327, p=.008).


Self-reported systemizing drive is related to ability to solve logical problems. Those with autism performed significantly better than NT controls on the TOLT in terms of getting the answer correct. However, there was no difference in their ability to justify their answers with the correct reasoning and the autism group were significantly more likely to get the correct answer along with the incorrect reasoning. This is consistent with the proposal that a drive to systemize in autism may confer logical reasoning ability, but not necessarily the ability to consciously understand the logical reasoning that leads to the correct answer. The non-conscious and apparently less effortful logical reasoning in autism is characteristic of intuitive processing within the non-autistic population, raising the possibility that autism can be characterised by ‘intuitive systemising’ within the Dual Process Theory of Autism.