Sunday, July 29, 2012

Systematizing in different dimensions: the linear, left-brained thinker

The standard tests of creativity, I've just argued, are skewed towards visual creativity. What about tests of what some might consider to be creativity's polar opposite--i.e., systematicity? Here the best-known test is Simon Baron Cohen's Systemizing Quotient test, which solicits self-ratings of systematic thinking and preference for systematic topics. This test involves a similar sort of skewing.

Of the 60-questions, 13 are focused on mechanics and technology. Three are about car, machine or airplane mechanics; four are about how things are put together; two are about transportation systems; and four are about computers, Wi-Fi, stereo equipment, and new technologies.

There are two questions about interest in grammar, two about geology, and two about botany, but the remaining topics--math, music, painting, religion, current events, zoology, cooking, science/nature, meteorology, and culture--get only one question each.

Baron-Cohen's website has so far tallied over 85,500 completed tests, with the average male test score about 8.5 (out of 60) points higher than the average female score. Echoing what he has said about autism and Asperger's syndrome, Baron-Cohen concludes that Systemizing, is a "male brained" phenomenon.

But what would his results look like if he'd posed fewer questions about mechanics and technology, and more about social rules, philosophy, plotlines, computer programming, and invented systems (as in Middle Earth or made-up languages)? Perhaps the gender differences would still persist. But more linear left-brainers like myself, who aren't particularly obsessed with transportation and technology and whose heads spin when we try to reason in 3 dimensions or keep track of moving parts, but who nonetheless will happily systematize till the cows come home, would get the SQ scores we systematically believe we deserve.


AmyP said...

Analytic philosophy is a very male, left-brain field, actually. It has a lot in common with math and linguistics.

Philosophers worry a lot about getting more women into metaphysics and epistemology (not even sure what that second one is, but they're a set!). Interestingly, there are a lot of women in ethics, which is another major field. I think this may reflect the general female tendency in favor of the less abstract that you see in such things as the comparative number of women in biology vs. physics.

Lsquared said...

What I find interesting is that the Systematizing Quotient test isn't really testing systematizing ability (which would look more like an IQ test) it's testing how much you think of yourself as systematizing--all of the questions are self reporting of what you think you do, not a measure of what you actually do.

Thalia said...

How one answers the questions may not even be related to interests, but to experiences as well. The question about furniture construction made me laugh, because after writing furniture descriptions for a local museum's catalog two years ago, I notice every detail about a piece of furniture's construction, whereas previously I never really noticed how furniture was put together. Spend 400 hours writing things like, "This table has four machine-turned spindle legs attached to the surface with iron wing nuts," and you can't help but start paying attention.

I assumed I'd get a low score on the test, but I ended up with a 48. I'm female and don't have Asperger's, although I do consider myself to be a fairly systemic person who's interested in language, history, art, music, and literature, so I have no idea where that score came from.