Is Autism Linked to the 'Extreme Male Brain'?
British Researchers See a Possible Connection Based on Brain Anatomy
Nov. 3, 2005 -- An old theory about autism and the brain is getting a fresh
look from autism experts in the U.K.
The theory of the "extreme male brain" was first mentioned more than
60 years ago, write Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD, and colleagues in
Now, they're exploring that theory in light of brain anatomy. Still, no one
knows exactly what causes autism and related brain disorders.
Baron-Cohen is a professor of developmental psychopathology at the
University of Cambridge. He also directs the university's Autism Research
Extreme Male Brain
The "extreme male brain" is an exaggeration of the typical male
brain, which is stronger at analyzing systems than showing empathy, or so the
The researchers write that "leaving political correctness aside, there
is compelling evidence" of differences in the brains, mental function, and
behavior of men and women.
They cite psychological studies -- some of which were done decades ago --
that girls tend to play with dolls, boys favor mechanical toys, girls score
better on tests of social sensitivity and verbal fluency, and boys score better
on engineering and physics problems and spatial navigation.
Those theories are based on large groups of people, not individuals, and
shouldn't be used to make assumptions about men or women, the researchers
Other experts dispute many gender
Autism and the Brain
People with autism often have "empathy deficits" and some are very
skilled at systematizing, the researchers note.
They cite studies showing that the autistic brain seems to follow the
development of the male brain, but to a stronger degree.
Scientists should map the autistic brain, looking for what areas are (and
aren't) "hypermasculinized," write Baron-Cohen and colleagues.
Autism is more common among males. But it's important to study the female
autistic brain, too, the researchers write.