"I'd be curious to know what you made of those questions/the test itself."

-- Curious reader

There are loads of problems with it. There are with pretty much all psychological questionnaires. The main issue is distinguishing the subject's internal experience from the way the subject is actually acting from the way other people perceive the subject. An awful lot of psych disorders boil down to "one of these things is not like the others", and figuring those out is difficult at best.

Questions regarding social functioning are especially tricky. The answer varies a lot with the exact phrasing. I have the same problem with informal tests for things like narcissism, where my score swings from "perfectly normal" to "Lex Luthor" depending on whether they ask me if I think it's the just and correct natural order of things that I be in charge of the entire universe (fuck no) or just whether I wind up in charge of things a lot anyway (all the time). I, and my giant bag of opinions, have a limited amount of control over how other people perceive me, and virtually no control over what they do about it.

In my case, going over the test, I'm pretty sure the reason I land squarely on the borderline is because when they ask me if I like and feel competent interacting with other humans, I say yes, and when they ask me if I prefer to be by myself most of the time, I also say yes. It breaks their scoring scale, which is constructed on the premise that people who like other people want to be around them all the time, and that people who want to be alone a lot feel that way because other people make them deeply uncomfortable. They're often linked, but not always, and for me at least it's a spurious correlation. I do like people, but I really am happiest when I spend most of my time sitting in a room staring at a computer screen.

I expect that why I go thunk on the autistic end of the scale on a lot of questions is a combination of the pareidolia, the weird thinking patterns, and the fact that when I've had too much people-ing I don't just want to go home, I have a complete fucking breakdown. If I'm trapped out of my burrow past the point where I've had enough, I lose my ability to be a functional civilized human being. Manners go by the wayside PDQ, and it takes a lot of effort to not be a raging bitch to anyone who talks to me, because I vehemently want them to go away before I overload and short out completely. If I still can't get out, my back knots up and my head starts to hurt, and I start hunching over with my shoulders jammed into my ears, trying to stare at a wall or a desk or a computer screen or something else that doesn't mind being glared at. If I still can't get out, I start losing stuff like my ability to make decisions. Not just big decisions, stupid little ones, too. Moggie has seen me curl up in my chair with my hands fisted in my hair and wail I DON'T KNOW and sincerely mean it when asked something innocuous like what I want on my pizza.

I'm similar when I'm sick, or when I've just woken up. People who live with me learn not to talk to me or ask questions when I've first shuffled out of my room for the day. There's no point -- I'm outright hostile, and I can't answer coherently anyway.

I assume this is a weird thing about me because of the trouble I have in getting it across to other people. It's not weird for me; I live in this head, and it's always looked like this in here. My parents, at various points in my life, liked to try to train me to get up early and come out and be sociable like a normal human while I was out of school for the summer; it pretty much made me want to stab myself in the eye the entire time, just for a change of pace, so I dug in my heels and refused to cooperate. No amount of observing how other people act and trying to keep myself calm while doing that has ever worked, so I decided to hell with it. People who can't cope with my hermitage don't really make good in-person friends for me.

On a happier note, the fact that I don't feel disconnected from people even if I'm not staring at them means that Moggie is still my Watson even though I'm 2500 miles away now, and can't drag her to the grocery store at 11:30pm because we both forgot to eat and nobody wants ramen. She and I are apparently very interesting together, if you pay attention. I've no idea how she's managed to make it eight years without outright strangling me, but I'm glad she has, because I'd probably be dead now without her.


  1. Great, thanks for the detailed answer! And *yes* to the "don't try and talk to me when I just got up". It usually takes two to three hours before I'm ready to interact with the world. It's not so much that I don't like having people around me at that point (unless they keep forcing a conversation after I made it clear that I'd rather not), but it have to use a much greater amount of energy and focus to be verbal so I just don't talk if I don't have to.
    //It breaks their scoring scale, which is constructed on the premise that people who like other people want to be around them all the time, and that people who want to be alone a lot feel that way because other people make them deeply uncomfortable.//
    This supports what I already wrote yesterday though explains it in a much neater form. I want to be by myself b/c I like being by myself, not b/c I can't stand people in general (specific others is a different topic) which means that I tick the autistic side of the test though for different reason than they'd assume.
    // It's not weird for me; I live in this head, and it's always looked like this in here.//
    Goodness, yes, this.

    Introversion and friends - I've had friends and the ex becoming downright angry with me for the time I want/ed to spend by myself (they are not part of my life anymore surprisingly) and I just didn't know how to get them to understand that 1. need this 2. don't stop liking them when I want to spend time away from them. Part of it was that these people really weren't the right people for me, but then I was younger, didn't know that others deal with this too (I was so happy when I read the first time that introversion means restoring energy by being by yourself) and that I could in fact create my very own brand of relationship since the extrovert version that gets touted by society doesn't work. I more or less stopped giving a damn and am much happier for it (and have much cooler people in my life).
    I guess I'll come back later to add some more thoughts on the topic.

    Curious reader

  2. I think a lot of these psychology type tests are really poorly written. I tend to interpret the sentence very literally and often my answer is "Both of these". A lot of times these binary answers compare two completely different situations and it just makes my mind rebel and go "alarm, alarm. False comparison". Makes me inner scientist go crazy when they compare the equivalent of apples and airplanes.

    I get that issue especially with the T/F side of the MB type tests. To me both ends of the spectrum are totally compatible the way they are often written, as you can be extremely rational and reflective while using intuition to guide normal everyday actions. I mean, I've certainly spent the equivalent of months introspecting about my emotional capacities and I can trust them as accurate within most established boundaries. I go super thinky in new situations, though.

    Also, note from that link: The average score from a control group was 16.4, and 80% of those with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher.
    So 20% of autists don't get that high score...

    For what it's worth, I get a 35 on that test linked above. I think I got points on everything except the "reading people" and "liking fiction". Fictional worlds fascinate me, so maybe that's why.

  3. Those test questions were interesting in a "Man I do not think you understand much about autism, social anxiety, and an array of different ways of interacting with the world" way. Because I am pretty sure that I scored well into the "autistic" range because of my ridiculous levels of social anxiety that have, historically, fucked up a lot of social interaction-type stuff for me.

    It always makes me wonder how they actually come up with the questions and scoring mechanisms for these sorts of things.

    1. I've read up some on that particular fellow, and as far as I can tell he's pulling them directly out of his ass. Simon Baron-Cohen is also unfortunately one of the leading researchers in the field, at least according to the popular press -- I don't know what his colleagues think of him, but he's very loud. He's slightly less annoying when he talks about synaesthesiae, but not by all that much.

      He spouts off very much like he has never had the experience of being rejected en masse by his cohort for any reason at all. He seems to think autism is a dysfunction of your empathy gland or something, and a lot of the behavior he points out as supporting this is behavior equally likely to come from someone who is profoundly traumatized by social interaction for any one of another zillion reasons. For someone who spends so much time talking about empathy, he doesn't seem to have very much of it.

    2. I am literally just sitting here making angry twitchy faces. My only exposure to him comes from Echidne of the Snakes' blog, but even just this one post of hers: http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/2011_11_27_archive.html#5298532393324098281 was enough to make me have a permanent knee-jerk FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU reaction to his name. I mean, seriously, just this bit:

      The theory states that when people with strongly ‘systemising’ personalities – the sort of people who become engineers, surgeons, computer experts and who shine in some aspects of business – marry each other and produce children, the effects of this kind of ‘male brain’ are genetically magnified, increasing the chances of producing an autistic child – a child with what Prof Baron-Cohen suspects is an ‘extreme male brain’.

      What the fuck is that even? Like, he manages to combine the most pernicious kind of scientific misogyny with this gross ableism that just completely makes all of my words fail me because of rage.

      I really hate him, is what I am saying.

    3. ...my word. I didn't realize he really was related to the insensitive clod who did Borat and Brüno. I was just going to make a crack about not having any luck getting sense out of people named Baron-Cohen. I find both of them to be cringe-worthy for exactly the same reason.

      Given that little piece of information I'm inclined to wonder if that family as a whole has some sort of problematic acculturation- or socialization- or brain-things going on. If there are relatives who are famous for something other than being psychologically brutal to people whose brains are not theirs, I don't know about them.

  4. Fucking Simon Baron-Cohen. My favourite (we're not supposed to do sarcasm, and I'm not entirely sure if I actually am) thing is his empathy scoring. In the same paper he stated that autistics lack empathy because we fail his test, and he knows that the test is accurate because autistics fail it. Self-confirming bias, much?

    He also thinks that autism is an "extreme male brain". I just can't.

    Unrelated to his douchebaggery, I always have -huge- poblems with these types of tests. They never ask the questions they actually want the answer to, and that is deeply confusing.

    1. I found out from one of the above links he's related to the idiot who does the Borat and Brüno things. I'm guessing fucktardedness runs in the family.

      Even according to his criteria, I would score very highly on BOTH systemic and empathetic functioning -- he never considers that. The one thing that he might have accidentally hit on that's useful is a distinction between affective and cognitive empathy, and even that's half-wrong. Affecitve empathy might be innate, but cognitive empathy is something that we teach children, and neither of them necessarily have anything to do with conveying that empathy to other people, which is the biggest stumbling block that I can see.

      Autistics don't do sarcasm? Jesus, could've fooled me. I'd have thought that would be one of the first forms of humor that hit after the inevitably discovery that what people say and how people say it can mean different things.


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