The effects of autistic traits and academic degree on visuospatial abilities.


In the present study, we were interested to investigate how autistic traits (including systemizing and empathy) and academic degree influence individuals' visuospatial abilities. To this end, 352 university students completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Empathy Quotient, the Systemizing Quotient (SQ) and visuospatial tests measuring figure disembedding and mental rotation of two-dimensional figures. Engineering-design students (architecture and engineering) were the most accurate in disembedding and mentally rotating figures, followed by students of physical sciences (computer science, chemistry, physics, etc.) and fact-based humanities (languages, classics, law); biological (psychology and neuroscience, etc.) and systems-based social scientists (economics and commerce) were the least accurate. Engineering-design students also showed higher SQ scores with respect to the other four academic degree subjects, with students of biological sciences showing lower SQ scores. Importantly, results from a path analysis revealed that SQ (but not AQ) exerted an indirect effect on figure disembedding and mental rotations through the influence of the academic degree. Thus, the present findings reveal shady differences in systemizing degree and visuospatial performance within systemizing-based degree subjects. Implications for education are discussed.