Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Empathy Quotient 2.0

There's a well-known online test called the Empathy Quotient, created by Simon Baron-Cohen, which purports to measure a person's level of empathy by means of a questionnaire that asks how the person reacts to various situations.

This test is chiefly responsible for spreading the ugly stereotype that autistics lack the mental capacity for empathy. It doesn't measure much of anything, in fact, because the questions are vaguely worded and culturally dependent. (The issue is much the same as when racial minorities get low scores on culturally biased intelligence tests.)

So I've taken the liberty of putting together a new and improved test with more detailed scenarios—Empathy Quotient 2.0—which is designed primarily to measure the empathy level of non-autistics. You'll find an answer key at the end of this post.

Question 1: You are a middle school teacher. One of your students is getting bullied every day for being a "nerd." Do you:

(a) Suggest to his parents that they enroll him in a social skills class, so that he can learn to act more like the other students and avoid the bullies' attention;

(b) Punish the bullies and inform their parents that their behavior is unacceptable and must stop;

(c) Ignore the situation because that's just how kids interact and "nerds" are natural targets;

(d) Feel sorry for the "nerd" and tell him that he can hide in the classroom during recess.

Question 2: You are a hiring manager. One applicant clearly has better technical qualifications than the others. When you interview him, you notice that he rocks in his chair, does not make eye contact, and speaks in a monotone. Will you:

(a) Hire him because he is the most qualified candidate;

(b) Hire him, even though you think he's creepy, because you're afraid of being sued if you don't;

(c) Talk with your buddy in Human Resources about how to cover your ass when you reject him;

(d) Just tell him flat-out that you don't hire his kind. So what if he sues you? The jury probably won't like him any more than you do.

Question 3: A new family just moved into your neighborhood. Someone tells you that their son is autistic. Do you:

(a) Warn your kids not to go near the autistic boy because you've heard people like that can be dangerous;

(b) Don't say anything, but keep a careful eye on your kids whenever they go near the new family's house, and try to distract them from doing so;

(c) Insist that your kids play with the autistic boy, whether they want to or not, because it's their charitable duty to befriend the disabled;

(d) Teach your children some basic facts about autism so that they will have a reasonable understanding of the new neighbor's behavior.

Question 4: You supervise a group of software engineers. One of them, a quiet and shy woman who always has been a reliable employee, tells you that she just got an Asperger diagnosis and feels stressed out. She asks you if she can work from home next week. Your response:

(a) Tell her that's fine, and while she's gone, call a staff meeting and warn all her co-workers that she is mentally unstable;

(b) Say that she can stay home next week and just relax—there's no need to do any work while at home. Make sure nobody hears the conversation, so that you can fire her for absenteeism;

(c) Grant her request because you know she can be trusted to get the work done;

(d) Helpfully offer to let her telecommute permanently—that'll save you the trouble of having an autistic employee in your office, and you've heard those people would rather be alone anyway.

Question 5: You discover that your tax money is being used for genetic research to develop a prenatal screening test for autism. You feel:

(a) Outraged—since when did the government have any right to decide what kinds of people are worthy to exist?

(b) Unconcerned—you don't know much about autistic people, but you've heard they are nothing but trouble, and you figure the government probably knows what it's doing;

(c) Ambivalent—you might not abort for that reason yourself, but you're reluctant to pass judgment on others who have different views;

(d) Gleeful—you're hoping for a future where autism is nothing but a word for the history books.

Question 6: Your sister is engaged to marry an autistic guy. Do you:

(a) Wonder if her boyfriend is capable of a long-term relationship, because you read somewhere that autistics rarely marry, but you don't say much because you don't want to be rude;

(b) Go into a tirade about the terrible fate she'll be dooming her children to suffer;

(c) Give her your congratulations and best wishes for a life of happiness;

(d) Suggest that she keep her finances separate, just in case any problems arise, and mention that you know a good divorce attorney.

Question 7: You are driving your teenage daughter and some of her friends to soccer practice in your SUV. You overhear a conversation about something foolish that a boy did at school. "That's so autistic," your daughter says, giggling. Do you:

(a) Enjoy the conversation and laugh along with the girls;

(b) Feel mildly uncomfortable, but say nothing—after all, your daughter probably doesn't know what "autistic" means anyway;

(c) Ignore it because that's just how kids talk, and it's no big deal;

(d) Have a talk with your daughter about respecting human diversity.

Question 8: You are a psychologist with an interest in autism. In the course of your work, do you:

(a) Teach mainstream social behaviors to autistics, without giving much thought to the reasons for their differences;

(b) Scrupulously ensure that you follow the scientific method and avoid making biased assumptions in your research;

(c) Drum up support and grants for ethically questionable research projects by describing the autistic population as a crushing burden to society;

(d) Create bogus online tests and irresponsible stereotypes.


Question 1: a=3 points, b=10 points, c=0 points, d=6 points.

Question 2: a=10 points, b=6 points, c=3 points, d=0 points.

Question 3: a=0 points, b=3 points, c=6 points, d=10 points.

Question 4: a=3 points, b=0 points, c=10 points, d=6 points.

Question 5: a=10 points, b=3 points, c=6 points, d=0 points.

Question 6: a=6 points, b=0 points, c=10 points, d=3 points.

Question 7: a=0 points, b=6 points, c=3 points, d=10 points.

Question 8: a=6 points, b=10 points, c=0 points, d=3 points.

If your score is:

64-80: Bravo—you are a very fair-minded and enlightened person. Too bad the rest of society isn't like you.

53-63: You have above average empathy, but it could stand a little improvement.

33-52: Your level of empathy is in the average range. Unfortunately, you are "normal."

0-32: Ever thought about working for Autism Speaks?

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  • In that test by Baron-Cohen there are very few questions that have to do with what I understand empathy to mean. Most of the questions have to do with social etiquette and communication.

    Of course autistics are going to score low on that test, but because it's called the "empathy" test and not the "social situations" test, he can claim autistics "lack empathy".

    He's basically defining it so. I think Baron-Cohen needs to explain himself about this test (assuming he's got some empathy).

    BTW, good replacement Abfh :)

    By Blogger Joseph, at 11:59 AM  

  • I think that question 8 answer d should not get any points. I would give answers c and d negative points.

    A better (in my opinion) answer would be "Try to understand what it is about NTs that cause many NTs have such bias and hatred toward ASDs, what ASD behaviors/traits/characteristics trigger the NT reflexive antipathy/bias/hatred and how can that NT reaction be prevented/fixed/compensated for.

    Communication and social interactions are two-way streets. There are aspects of both NTs and ASDs that need to be understood to help those interactions be positive for both parties.

    I have another answer for question 5.

    "Disgusted that that research money is being wasted on something so unlikely work, which at best would have an enormous false positive and false negative rate, and which does nothing for people with ASDs who already exist, or will be born in the future and which only fosters negative stereotypes and induces guilt."

    A better answer to 7 (in my opinion) would be to speak up right then to find what your daughter and her friends actually mean, and to educate all of them right then and there (and also to talk privately with your daughter).

    There is a dating/matching service that lets people compose and post "tests" which they score and cross correlate (www.okcupid.com). You could get your test put up there.

    By Blogger daedalus2u, at 1:04 PM  

  • I just took the SB-C test. I have always cared very much about others' situations, and offer my help when I can, so I was pretty surprised to score so LOW (29).
    Social situations on the other hand, I'd rather not participate in.
    what a useless diagnostic.
    abfh- I took yours too. The only answer I didn't score 10 on was the marriage/compatibility one. I don't care who marries whom, but I think pre-marital counseling is good for all couples.

    By Blogger Suzanne, at 1:20 PM  

  • Ohhh, I have one!

    You are a teacher. A 15 year old girl in your class is being bullied verbally. You know this girl because her dad is a senior teacher in your school. You notice this girl is sitting at her desk not moving, not talking, not interacting with anyone. You don't see her eat in the school hall. You can see she doesn't have any friends. Do you:

    a). Approach the girl and ask if she wants to go somewhere away from the bullies. Also ask why she's not eating and give her time (ie maybe weeks or months) to reply, by writing if needed.

    b) Berate the bullies and have a strong word with them about making presumptions on someone's intelligence based on lack of response, poor co-ordination etc.

    c) Have a word with her dad.

    d) Do absolutely sod all because a quiet pupil is no trouble for you and she's predicted good or average GCSE's.

    Yes, it was over 16 years ago. And yes, I still occasionally feel a tad bitter about it.

    By Anonymous bullet, at 2:07 PM  

  • Joseph: Yes, the results on such a test depend entirely on the author's definitions, and it's possible to make any group of people end up with a low score on just about anything.

    Daedalus2u: I gave question 8d three points because Baron-Cohen isn't the worst of the autism researchers. That's not much of a compliment for him, though, because three points per question still would put a person in the lowest category.

    Suzanne: Good point. I was assuming that a person would suggest premarital counseling based on a belief that the couple was not well matched, but you are right that premarital counseling can be helpful for couples generally. I'll edit the post to fix that.

    Bullet: I take it (d) was what they did? Seems like a lot of teachers (and people in general) are the same way, just taking the path of least resistance...

    By Blogger abfh, at 2:18 PM  

  • Well.

    I scored 80 without looking at the answers. And to me, it doesn't feel like empathy (in the 'emotionally-driven response' sense)... it feels more like a test of common sense social responsibility to me.

    What Joseph says about the SB-C test is actually quite accurate.

    Daedalus... your answer - whilst accurate - is too long for a test response item.

    Bullet... so the bastards did that to you, too? That's why I went into educational psychology... it was an educational psychologist (who trained at the same university I was at, using the same qualification syllabus) who fucked me over.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 3:32 PM  

  • DNA, sorry if the right answer is too long and complicated for a test. Sometimes everything that is easy and simple is wrong.

    abfh, so we are grading on a "curve" now? Bogus crap is bogus crap. When good researchers produce bogus crap, you should call them on it. They will appreciate it eventually. If they don't, then they are not "good researchers".

    By Blogger daedalus2u, at 4:20 PM  

  • Aw poop, I'm Aspergers...according to B-C. I actually thought I was more borderline....

    By Blogger r.b., at 4:39 PM  

  • Fun! Can I play, too?

    You are editor in chief of a major newspaper. An article citing questionable data from an unpublished research paper is submitted, stating that autism is most definitely worse than death and is caused by mothers who buy their shoes online. Do you

    a) Publish it; this will sell lots of papers.
    b) Make a half-hearted effort to check the facts with the researchers.
    c) Publish it, but later write an “explanation” which you hope will be seen as an apology or retraction by those who have demanded it.
    d) Kill the “story”, fire the writer and make a serious effort to maintain the integrity of your publication.

    By Blogger Bev, at 5:02 PM  

  • "DNA, sorry if the right answer is too long and complicated for a test. Sometimes everything that is easy and simple is wrong."

    I do understand, and it wasn't a criticism... it was just a statement of fact. When writing items for any test, the item stem itself and each response option must be short and simple. I agree that this is not always going to get the best information, and I always like to ask around the item responses selected when dealing with a client. My response was purely about the usefulness of your idea (which was very accurate and sound) in a test-writing context.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 5:25 PM  

  • Totally excellent. Will have to print this out and give it to select NTs.

    By Blogger elmindreda, at 9:36 PM  

  • I scored 80 on your test. :-D

    By Blogger Rachel, at 8:04 AM  

  • Question #1 You forgot the right answer: Buy the kid a set of weights and teach him how to fight. Or, get him a gun. I didn't bother reading the rest. I'll assume you got them wrong too.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 6:28 PM  

  • That is unless his dad is the one who is abusing him the most .... eh, Fore Sam?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:00 PM  

  • Anon, Yes, that would apply to parents who abuse their kids by doing nothing to help them.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 11:27 PM  

  • Right, not helping them (ie abusing them) by falsely convincing them that they're poisoned.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:35 PM  

  • John, question #1 asked what the teacher should do, not the parents. And I really hope you were just randomly trolling as usual when you wrote your comment, rather than seriously planning to buy Sam a gun. Even though you're a total dickhead, I wouldn't want to read about your son in a school shooting news story.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:34 AM  

  • ABFH,
    To be thought of as a dickhead by one who advocates abusing autistics by letting mercury rot their brains is OK.

    None of your idiotic possible answers solve the problem. A punch in the mouth will stop a bully better than anything. But, curing the kid will eliminate the problem completely. Get in touch if you need any more help with problem solving.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 10:00 AM  

  • "Get in touch if you need any more help with problem solving."


    A man who cannot think logically and who has deluded himself that he's a really great guy says that?!

    I need to lie down... I'm laughing so much I could do myself an injury....

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 1:15 PM  

  • oh boy, i'm laughing out loud too! get that student a set of weights or a gun? omg!

    btw, i scored 80 points, and i bet that my my best friends would score at least a 60. I've taught them quite a bit about tolerance and acceptance towards autistics. they were already pretty accepting from the start, otherwise they wouldn't want to include me as one of their friends. but you see, when people aren't interested in autism the way i am, the likelyhood of them being perfectly underdstanding of autistics is slim. i would say they are above normal though. i'm very thankful for that.

    By Blogger BigTimeSynesthete, at 7:43 PM  

  • I'm attracted to an aspie. When I first found out I thought the responsible thing to do was to forget it because, I thought, by definition they can't love, but THANK GOD! that rang untrue and I looked into it. I'm learning more, my current understanding is that some of the mechanics of empathy-reading faces, for example-may be hard, but if you tell the person the literal truth they'll get it. And aspie adults have learned a lot of skills. Meantime, I don't know if I'll be honored to have my interest returned, but we're friends now and I cherish that. P.S. I got a 22 on the EQ myself (but only a 20 on the systems quotient)--not fair!

    By Blogger AtypicalNT, at 3:32 PM  

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