Cognitive style predicts entry into physical sciences and humanities: Questionnaire and performance tests of empathy and systemizing - Billington, J., Baron-Cohen, S., and Wheelwright, S. (2007)


The aim of the study was to determine whether there was an appreciable difference between the scores of men and women who were enrolled in courses in the sciences and the humanities.


  • 415 students
  • Classified as either physical science or humanities
  • 203 Males and 212 Females
  • Recruited via email
  • Excluded if they had a psychiatric illness
  • Research Method

    The research method used in this study was a Lab experiment.


    Completed 2 questionnaires & 2 tasks on a secure university website.
  • Scores on SQ-R can range from 0-150
  • Scores on EG can range from 0-80
  • Scores gave the individuals a "brain type"

  • Forced choice version of the embedded figures task
  • Selecting one of two answers
  • Participants told they would see a series of 12 pairs of diagrams
  • Eyes test was also given - empathy
  • For performance tasks 1 point per correct answer and 1 bonus point if they were in the top 25% fastest time of correct answers
  • Findings

  • Sex difference between 2 academic disciplines
  • 59.1% of physical science were male
  • 70.1% of humanities female
  • Overall there is evidence for E > S in female and S > E in males
  • By Degree:
  • 56.3% PS / 29.9% H - Type S
  • 14.2% PS / 41.5% H - Type E
  • Overall evidence for E > S in humanities and S > E in physical sciences

  • Weaknesses

  • Way in which participants were recruted
  • Allowed to leave and come back

  • Ecological Validity

    The validity is low because it was conducted in a lab setting.


    Those who were more empathic would be more likely to follow career paths that required practitioners to interact with others and systematizers were more likely to follow careers that required high levels of organization and little contact with other people. The study's strength lay in its thorough tests and ecological validity, but its main weakness was that the participants of the study were already enrolled in the sciences or humanities and it was already fairly clear wether they were systemizing or empathizing.


    A lot of quantitative data



    Billington, J., Baron-Cohen, S., and Wheelwright, S. (2007)

    View the study