While Baron-Cohen did describe the Type E, or "female," brain in the lengthy paper I discussed in the earlier post, nowhere in that paper did he mention an extreme version of this type analogous to the "extreme male brain" he posits as an explanation of autism.
However, in his book-length treatment of the larger subject of brain sex in general, The Essential Difference (2003 --- brief summary and critique available here), he devotes a whole chapter to the extreme female brain.
Baron-Cohen claims that extreme empathizers have been harder for him to characterize because he hasn't seen any of them in his clinic. He hypothesizes that because it's easier for people who are highly skilled at dealing with people but who are helpless at solving problems and thinking logically to function in society, such people do not generally present their cases for psychologists' perusal.
All scientists know about the extreme female brain is that it is predicted to arise ... Scientists have never got up close to these individuals. It is a bit like positing the existence of a new animal on theoretical grounds, and then setting out to discover if it is really found in nature.Despite the silliness of the idea of Prehistoric Tech Support ("Step One: Does Your Spear Have a Pointy End?"), Baron-Cohen has a good point here: with the increasing complexity of society, technology and daily life, division of labor has proceeded to such an extent that many different categories of people exist whose job it is to make sure other people's gadgets are functioning as they should. The need to repair one's own stuff has gotten less and less --- and rich people have never had to fix their own broken appliances --- and, indeed, is no longer possible for many electronic gadgets. Since these extreme Type E's would be good at navigating complex social networks, they should have no trouble knowing whom to consult about what annoying technological hiccup.
[W]hat would such people look like?
... Their empathizing ability would be average or significantly better than that of other people in the general population, but their systemizing would be impaired. So these would be people who have difficulty understanding math or physics or machines or chemistry, as systems. But they could be extremely accurate at tuning in to others' feelings and thoughts.
Would such a profile carry any necessary disability? Hyperempathizing could be a great asset, and poor systemizing may not be too crippling. It is possible that the extreme female brain is not seen in clinics because it is not maladaptive.
We saw that those with the extreme male brain do experience a disability, but only when the person is expected to be socially able. Remove this expectation, and the person can flourish. Unfortunately, in our society this social expectation is pervasive: at school, in the workplace and in the home. So it is hard to avoid.
But for those with the extreme female brain, the disability might only show up in circumstances where the person is expected to be systematic or technical. The person with the extreme female brain would be system-blind. Fortunately, in our society there is considerable tolerance for such individuals. For example, if you were a child who was systemblind, your teachers might simply allow you to drop mathematics and science at the earliest possible stage, and encourage you to pursue your stronger subjects. If you were a systemblind adult and your car didn't work, you could just call the mechanic (who is likely to be at least a Type S). If your computer needs putting together, and you can't work out which lead goes into which socket, there are phone numbers that you can ring for technical support. And in evolutionary terms, there were likely equivalent people that a systemblind person could turn to for help when that person's home was destroyed in strong winds, or when their spear broke.
That's about as far as I'm willing to grant that his prediction holds any water, though. I think he dramatically underestimates the degree to which systematic modes of thought are needed in modern life. In one example, he has his hypothetical extreme empathizer dealing with a car that won't start; were I in the room when he was writing that part, I would ask him what business he has supposing that this systemblind person could even drive a car? Driving requires memorization and application of a very specific and complicated set of rules, deriving other vehicles' likely trajectories from those rules, and performing fairly complex feats of spatial reasoning quickly and often. All of these things, you have probably realized, are examples of the "systemizing" cognitive style that these extreme Type E's are supposed to lack.
Later in the chapter, Baron-Cohen considers some of the possible matches for his extreme female brain among existing psychological disorders. He rejects what I had thought to be the obvious choice --- paranoia --- on the grounds that the over-attribution of hostile intentions to others (or, sometimes, to inanimate objects) cannot be hyperempathy, because the paranoid person does not perceive the hostility so much as he or she creates it.
[A]re individuals with these psychiatric conditions (for that is what paranoia and personality disorders are) revealing the extreme female brain?So, if the "female" brain is characterized by special attention to, and a high degree of accuracy in parsing, subtle emotional cues in other people's faces, voices or behavior, a person whose wild imaginings led them to infer motivations that weren't there would be as far off from this mark as someone who simply failed to realize that there was any meaning to be read at all.
This cannot be the case. If someone is over-attributing intentions, or has become preoccupied by their own emotions, then by definition they are not exhibiting hyperempathy. Hyperempathy is the ability to ascertain the mental states of others to an unusually accurate and sensitive degree, and it can only occur if one is appropriately tuned in to the other person's feelings. A paranoid person, or someone who is easily inflamed into aggression by suspecting that others are hostile, has a problem. But their problem is not hyperempathy.
Ultimately, Baron-Cohen characterizes the extreme female cognitive type as regular people with a particular gift for connecting with people, but who are also technologically clueless:
A second, and to my mind more likely [than his earlier suggestion of a person who believes in telepathy without being delusional or generally harboring wacky ideas], contender for who might have an extreme female brain would be a wonderfully caring person who can rapidly make you feel perfectly understood. For example, an endlessly patient psychotherapist who is excellent at tuning in to your feelings and situation, who not only says she feels a great sadness at your sadness or great pleasure at your pleasure but also actually experiences these emotions as vividly as if your feelings were hers.He adds that such a prodigy would have to be "technologically disabled" to a corresponding extent to fit his theory, but supposes that such a disability would not stop her from establishing a meaningful career in the caring professions. He says, to my mind unrealistically, that society values empathizers and provides them rewarding niches while compensating for (or ignoring) their weaknesses in systemizing.
I do not believe that society particularly values its caregivers, though. Most of them (in the US) are unpaid, and depend entirely for their survival on the income and health insurance of their working spouses. When caregiving is also a paid job, it is grossly underpaid and often physically and emotionally exhausting. Even within fields that are fairly prestigious, like medicine, those specialties which are dominated by women tend to be the lowest-paid and least-highly regarded. The specialties women choose are often the more nurturing, caring, do-gooder areas like pediatrics or family practice. Conversely, engineers are compensated quite well, and are unique among the professions for earning power immediately following completion of a bachelor's degree.
(I have one final, random thing to add: I know several hyperempathizers. Of the three I can think of, two are male and one is female. One of them sounds a lot like the idea Baron-Cohen rejected in favor of the wholly-assimilated caring professional: when he perceives other people's mental states, he claims to be seeing "auras." I take this to mean that his brain interprets the subtle signals he's perceiving in a visual way --- much like my own thoughts, experienced by a more superstitious person, might be termed "visions." Ironically enough, this man has an autistic son).