Based on the Empathizing–Systemizing (E–S) theory, it was hypothesized that the underrepresentation of female students in the physical sciences and the underrepresentation of males in the social sciences relates to differences in E–S cognitive style between the sexes. This hypothesis was tested in 115 physical science students and 155 social science students from a university in the Netherlands. The students completed visuospatial tests and the systemizing quotient-revised (SQ-R) as measures for systemizing, and a Cartoon Prediction test and the empathy quotient (EQ) as measures for empathizing. Independent of sex, the physical science students scored significantly lower than social science students on EQ (with large effect size) and ‘brain type’ that represents the standardized difference score between EQ and SQ-R (with large effect size). Physical science students, furthermore, scored significantly higher on the Cartoon Prediction task and one of the visuospatial tasks; however, these effects were only small of size. Unlike the scores on the SQ-R and the performance tests, the ‘brain type’ score of the EQ and SQ-R questionnaires was a good predictor of entry into social or physical sciences. Interestingly, the typical sex differences in more empathizing and less systemizing in females compared to males were only small for EQ and ‘brain type’, and absent for the SQ-R and the performance tests. This study only partially confirms the E–S theory, because typical sex differences were only minor in this selective sample and only the self-report measures predicted academic area in the absence of a role for sex.
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We thank our test assistants and the participants for their valuable contribution to the study. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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