Thursday, June 02, 2011

Flimsy Online Questionaires

C:The defendant stands accused of being the epitome of a syndrome characterized by:

categoriz[ing] their fellow human beings after answering a few suggestive questions in flimsy online questionaires.
How does he plead?

D: I deny and repudiate the allegation. 

I did post an online questionaire, probably one as flimsy as anything else constructed only of magnetic codes on some hard drive somewhere, but a quiz developed and extensively tested by leading researchers.  It is and was a screening test, as described in Wired, one of the secondary posters:

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre have created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults. In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher. The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger's report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.

My original motivation, as I have mentioned before, was the suspicion that for a multi-gene trait with devastating impact, autism was surprisingly common in human populations.   One plausible explanation - embraced by many experts - is that small doses of whatever it is that makes autism might have significant selective advantage.  Some researchers have claimed that many exceptional talents through the ages have shown autism spectrum traits and others that some groups (hint, they mean math, physics, engineering and possibly other flavors of geeks) show many AS traits.  I offered my readers the chance to take this test.  Most of those who have shared their scores with me (on the site or off) seem to take their scores with pretty good grace and even think they offered some insight.

A few others, who either didn't take the test or chose not to share their scores seem offended by the whole business.  So far so good.  I have been accused of using this test to characterize people.  Who, exactly?  Myself, maybe (28 - almost double the mean but still a bit below the usual Aspergers diagnosis).  Anybody else?  I don't think so.

I have mentioned a few notable people who have reported that they have Aspergers (or ASD) and some famous historical figures who have been the targets of retrospective ASD diagnoses.  I also speculated on the AQ's of several fictional characters.

If the starting hypothesis is correct, namely that AQ traits have something in common with high achievement in several intellectual fields, I would have expected many of my readers might score high in the AQ, since many of them are highly accomplished in physics, math, or related fields.

I also posted a psychopath checklist - like the AQ test, a product of extensive research, but I certainly didn't expect my readers to do well on that.  Nonetheless, there are also a heck of a lot of psychopaths, often estimated at 1% of the population.  Many of them come to grief in prison or elsewhere, but could their traits be of selective value in some circumstances? 

Here also, I speculate yes.  Most of the great tyrants, ancient and modern, would appear to fit the bill in part, or whole.  Certain leadership traits would seem to assort pretty well with a few of the psychopathic diagnostics.

Of course we don't actually know what causes either psychopathy or autism spectrum disorder, so all such speculations remain such - for now.

PS - I guess I did note that Newt G had a number of the listed traits on the PT.  I don't think that even a scumbag politico like him is actually a classic psychopath, but if there is intermediate ground, he might be skating on it.

How finds the jury?