[Please post all off-topic comments in the most recent open thread.  They will not be posted here]

I was listening to an autism lecture by the great Simon Baron-Cohen and around the 49 minute mark, someone in the audience asks what Simon thinks of the research showing autism is a slow life history strategy while schizophrenia is a fast life history strategy.  Simon is unfamiliar with the research but agrees it sounds plausible.

The research he’s citing sounds like my June 3, 2014 article Autism, schizophrenia and social class, where I wrote:

I’ve come across some fascinating research showing that autism is more common in higher social classes and schizophrenia is more common in lower social classes.  In my opinion, this is because the higher social classes tend to be more nerdy (K selected) and the lower social classes tend to be more cool (r selected).  The higher classes are nerdy in that they are more educated, more monogamous, more scrawny, and less sexually active.  By contrast, the lower classes are “cool” because they are more blue collar, more muscular, more likely to get arrested, more into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Of course I’m not the first to speculate that autism might be linked to slow life history.  There was a 2001 web page arguing that autism may have been inherited from Neanderthals:

Under harsh conditions it’s advantageous to mature and grow slower. This means individuals can survive on fewer resources. A consequence of slower maturing is longer life. Jack Cuozzo shows that Neanderthals matured slower than us, and probably got older. Autistic children often develop according to another slower scheme than other children, and may continue to develop into their 30s. 105 106 It is also believed that a key factor in ADHD might be slower mental maturation. 107 Similar findings exists for schizophrenia

However this article did not make my point (made by Simon’s questioner) that schizophrenics have fast life histories, instead arguing they have slow life histories.  And I’ve never believed that autism was inherited from Neanderthals, though I have speculated it might partly be an evolutionary adaptation to extreme cold.  It may also be an adaptation to civilization as Philosopher has argued.

Commenters like Race Realist are constantly arguing IQ tests are pseudoscience, but as Jordan Peterson cleverly noted, if you reject IQ, then you have to reject all of psychology, because IQ is the best validated construct psychologists have ever come up with.

Race Realist argues that IQ tests are based on circular logic because tests are constructed so that people considered smart score well.  While that’s partly true, we’re now at the point where IQ tests can be constructed by wholly objective criteria such as the degree to which test items correlate with the general intelligence factor (g) derived from a factor analysis of a large battery of tests.

If Race Realist thinks IQ tests are circular and pseudoscientific, what does he think of AQ questionnaires (Autism Quotient measures)?   These tests have questions like “do you like numbers?” and then report that math majors are more autistic.  This seems much more circular to me than IQ tests .

I think the best way to study autism is to avoid the questionnaires and instead just look at the most extreme cases (like Rain Man) than everyone in every culture could immediately agree is autistic.  If autism is truly linked to STEM talent (as Simon Baron-Cohen argues) or slow life history (as I’ve argued), it should be evident in the non-autistic siblings and parents of people like Rain Man who would regress to a milder (sub-clinical) variant of the condition.   On the other hand, if Rain Man’s relatives are just as likely to be bartenders as engineers, then autism is simply a disorder, and not a pathological extreme of normal (adaptive) variation.

 

 

Advertisements