The effect of autistic traits on disembedding and mental rotation in neurotypical women and men.


AbstractRecent data has revealed dissociations between social and non-social skills in both autistic and neurotypical populations. In the present study, we investigated whether specific visuospatial abilities, such as figure disembedding and mental rotation, are differently related to social and non-social autistic traits, in neurotypical women and men. University students (N = 426) completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), figure disembedding and mental rotation of two-dimensional figures tasks. AQ social skills (AQ-social) and attention-to-details (AQ-attention) subscales were used as measures of social and non-social autistic traits, respectively. Mental rotation was affected by a significant interaction between sex, social and non-social traits. When non-social traits were above the mean (+ 1 SD), no sex differences in mental rotation were found. Instead, below this value, sex differences depended on the social traits, with men on average outperforming women at middle-to-high social traits, and with a comparable performance, and with women on average outperforming men, at lower social traits. A small positive correlation between figure disembedding and social traits was observed in the overall sample. These results are interpreted in terms of the hyper-systemizing theory of autism and contribute to the evidence of individual differences in the cognitive style of autistic people and neurotypical people with autistic traits.