Masculinity, femininity and autistic traits

Chieng, Zhao Jing (2023) Masculinity, femininity and autistic traits. MRes thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Sex difference, i.e. biological sex has been studied quite extensively in Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC). However, “gender” is multidimensional and not limited to the biological component of sex (Joel & McCarthy, 2016). Since gender tends to be viewed as non-binary more often by autistic than non-autistic people (Cooper et al., 2018), it is important to study other features of “gender” too. The current thesis focused on “gender role”, how much people align themselves with traditional masculinity and femininity traits. Categorized by stereotypes about gender, gender role is heavily influenced by the traditional social norms, which is in turn influenced by cultural values. This thesis aimed to discover the relationship between gender role and autistic traits, in addition to biological sex in neurotypical Malaysians.

Chapter 2 (Study 1) evaluated Baron-Cohen’s extreme male brain theory of autism. This theory is based on the finding that neurotypical Western males tend to be more systemizing and less empathizing than females, and that autistic people show the same profile, or even show an extreme form of this typical male profile (e.g. Baron-Cohen, 2009; Greenberg et al., 2018). However, culture might influence the relationship between systemizing-empathizing abilities and biological sex. In Asians, males appeared more systemizing than females, but empathy seemed equally presented by males and females (e.g. Zheng & Zheng, 2015). Moreover, the extreme male brain profile in systemizing-empathizing might not extend to gender role. There are indications that gender defiance (e.g. Cooper et al., 2018) or an androgynous gender role (e.g. Kallitsounaki & Williams, 2020) is more common in ASC.

Study 1 found that neurotypical Malaysian females demonstrated better empathizing than males, and empathizing correlated negatively with autistic traits. Demasculinization was observed in both sexes. Femininity was found to positively predict autistic traits in males but was independent of autistic traits in females. Moreover, the predicting relationship of masculinity and femininity on autistic traits was observed in self-reported masculinity and femininity traits , but not in self-rated masculinity and femininity . Hence, the extreme male brain theory was only partially supported, and not generalizable to gender role in Malaysia.

Chapter 3 (Study 2) focused on the possible influence of gender role, personality traits, and culture on camouflaging and autistic traits. Previous studies showed that autistic females camouflaged autistic traits more than males (e.g. Schuck et al., 2019). Moreover, autistic people camouflaged more when experiencing societal pressure and expectations to “pretend to be normal” (e.g. Hull et al., 2017). This indicates that apart from biological sex, certain personality traits or stronger attachment to a culture’s value might influence camouflaging. Possible factors influencing camouflaging in both males and females could be gender role (femininity in particular) (e.g. Bargiela et al., 2016), personality traits (Big 5 personality) (e.g. Robinson et al., 2020), and culture (specifically, collectivism) (e.g. Schuck et al., 2019), as these factors might influence the desire to “fit in”. These factors might influence autistic traits as well (e.g. Cooper et al., 2018; Robinson et al., 2020).

In Study 2, high self-reported masculinity , femininity traits and autistic traits, and low conscientiousness predicted more camouflaging in neurotypical Malaysians. Low extraversion indicated autistic traits in both sexes. Neuroticism and individualism positively predicted autistic traits in males only. In females, no significant effects other than extraversion were observed. In short, camouflaging and autistic traits were associated with certain personality or cultural traits. Moreover, the extreme male brain theory again did not generalize to gender role in neurotypical Malaysians.

The current thesis showed that masculinized brain activities might be observed for systemizing and empathizing among neurotypical individuals with relatively high autistic traits. However, this “male brain” condition is not extendable to gender role. Masculinity and femininity are likely to be independent of autistic traits in Malaysia. Additionally, the findings provide some support that masculinity and femininity are related to camouflaging in non-autistic individuals with relatively high autistic traits. Nevertheless, the current thesis suggested a possible influence of culture in the relationship between gender role, autistic traits, and camouflaging, suggesting a possible future direction in researching the moderation and mediation effects of culture on the relationship between gender role, autistic traits, and camouflaging. It was also implied that biological sex and gender role should be considered in developing ASC assessments because gender might influence the expression of autistic traits. Certain personality traits and culture (e.g. conscientiousness, individualism) were found to be associated with autistic traits and camouflaging among neurotypical Malaysians. This might be relevant to take into account in the diagnostic process. Some recommendations, e.g. validation of measures in different cultures are suggested for future studies.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (MRes)
Supervisors: de Vries, Marieke
Stewart-Williams, Steve
Keywords: masculinity, femininity, systemizing, empathizing, personality traits, individualism, collectivism, autistic traits, camouflaging
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Faculties/Schools: University of Nottingham, Malaysia > Faculty of Science and Engineering — Science > School of Psychology
Item ID: 68993
Depositing User: Chieng, Zhao
Date Deposited: 18 Feb 2023 04:40
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2023 04:40

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