How predictive are sex and empathizing-systemizing cognitive style for entry into the academic areas of social or physical sciences?

Groen, Y., Fuermaier, A. B. M., Tucha, L. I., Koerts, J. & Tucha, O., Feb-2018, In : Cognitive Processing. 19, 1, p. 95-106 12 p.

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  • How predictive are sex and empathizing–systemizing cognitive style for entry into the academic

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Based on the Empathizing-Systemizing (E-S) theory, it was hypothesized that the underrepresentation of female students in the physical sciences and the underrepresentation of males in the social sciences relates to differences in E-S cognitive style between the sexes. This hypothesis was tested in 115 physical science students and 155 social science students from a university in the Netherlands. The students completed visuospatial tests and the systemizing quotient-revised (SQ-R) as measures for systemizing, and a Cartoon Prediction test and the empathy quotient (EQ) as measures for empathizing. Independent of sex, the physical science students scored significantly lower than social science students on EQ (with large effect size) and 'brain type' that represents the standardized difference score between EQ and SQ-R (with large effect size). Physical science students, furthermore, scored significantly higher on the Cartoon Prediction task and one of the visuospatial tasks; however, these effects were only small of size. Unlike the scores on the SQ-R and the performance tests, the 'brain type' score of the EQ and SQ-R questionnaires was a good predictor of entry into social or physical sciences. Interestingly, the typical sex differences in more empathizing and less systemizing in females compared to males were only small for EQ and 'brain type', and absent for the SQ-R and the performance tests. This study only partially confirms the E-S theory, because typical sex differences were only minor in this selective sample and only the self-report measures predicted academic area in the absence of a role for sex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-106
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Processing
Issue number1
Early online date28-Nov-2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2018


  • Journal Article, empathy quotient, systemizing quotient, STEM, gender differences, cognitive style, things people dimension, HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM, ASPERGER-SYNDROME, MENTAL ROTATION, PERFORMANCE, QUOTIENT, GENDER, MATHEMATICS, INTERESTS, BRAIN, METAANALYSIS

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