Asperger As Predictor Of Programming Aptitude?

[M]ight it be possible that measurements of mild autistic-spectrum tendencies would show a useful correlation with programming ability? The popular image of an expert programmer is a man (seldom a woman) careless of physical appearance, socially inept, with narrow and intense interests and a peculiarly literal way of interpreting spoken or written statements. While this is a stereotype, there is some truth in it, and all of these characteristics are commonly shared by people with a mild autistic-spectrum condition or Asperger syndrome. This is not fanciful association, since it has been observed that scientists and engineers are more likely to have autistic-spectrum conditions than the general population and that fathers and grandfathers of autistic-spectrum children are more likely to work as scientists and engineers (6).

Only a self-administered test would be practical. However, rather than use a direct measure of autistic tendencies such as AQ (7), it was decided to use a pair of instruments, “Systemizing Quotient” (SQ) and “Empathy Quotient” (EQ). These are designed to be used together and the quantity SQ – EQ has been shown to have a strong correlation with independent diagnoses of Asperger syndrome and other autistic-spectrum tendencies (8).


An experiment was therefore designed to test the hypothesis that SQ and EQ scores, either together or individually, would be strongly correlated with a measure of programming ability.


The SQ and EQ tests both have values in the range 0 to 80, with fairly similar distributions. They were designed to be used in conjunction and the value SQ – EQ has been shown to be significantly different for males, females and Asperger syndrome individuals (8). Plotting SQ – EQ against programming test score, in figure 8, we see a high correlation (r = 0.67, p = 0.002).

Fig. 8. SQ – EQ plotted against programming test score.

For this class, mean programming test score was 6.8 (SD = 2.4), median 8; the mean SQ was 34.3 (SD = 12.0), median 33; the mean EQ was 34.5 (SD = 11.7), median 33; the mean SQ – EQ was -0.2 (SD = 15.9), median -1. In contrast, for the general population of males the mean SQ is 30.3 (SD = 11.5) and the mean EQ is 41.8 (SD = 11.2) (10, 11)


6. BBC: Scientific brain linked to autism. BBC, London. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4661402.stm (2006)

7. S. Baron-Cohen, et al.: The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger Syndrome/High Functioning Autism, Males and Females, Scientists and Mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 31:5-17 (2001)

8. Goldenfeld, N. et al.: Empathizing and Systemizing in Males, Females and Autism. International Journal of Clinical Neuropsychiatry 2, 338-345 (2005).


10. Baron-Cohen, S., et al: The Systemising Quotient (SQ) : An investigation of adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism and normal sex differences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, Special issue on "Autism : Mind and Brain" 358:361-374 (2003)

11. Baron-Cohen, S. and S. Wheelwright: The Empathy Quotient (EQ). An investigation of adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and normal sex differences. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 34:163-175 (2004)

-- Stuart Wray

from "SQ Minus EQ can Predict Programming Aptitude"

Quoted on Sun Sep 23rd, 2012