Monday, August 29, 2011

Down Syndrome - Not Just a Control Group

In many studies of various developmental disabilities, one of the most common control groups used are people with Down Syndrome. I've read countless studies comparing the social skills of autistic kids to those of kids with Down Syndrome - either matched by language skills or general cognitive skills. The book Journey From Cognition to Brain to Gene, which focuses on Williams Syndrome, describes almost as many subjects with Down Syndrome as it does Williams Syndrome.

All of these studies are based on the assumption that Down Syndrome is a good control group. In other words, that DS individuals mostly differ cognitively from neurotypicals only by having a lower IQ. That they don't have their own quirks specific to Down Syndrome, which make them differ from others with cognitive disabilities.

This is not true.

Down Syndrome individuals generally have a relative weakness in verbal skills, specifically verbal short term memory (which raises questions about using them as a control for research into the verbal strengths of Williams Syndrome) and a relative strength in social skills (making them a poor control for autistic kids, especially when you pair them on verbal skills, a weakness for both groups). They also tend to have a strength in adaptive behavior, which means they typically have more independence than their IQs would predict.

They also tend to have certain temperament features. Although the stereotype of DS children as sweet and well-behaved doesn't necessarily fit, and every DS individual has their own personality, certain traits are more often present. They tend to show less intense moods, more positive mood and adapt better to change. And one trait can be seen in early childhood that is very unusual - a certain reaction to learning situations. Whereas NT babies will try hard at a task, whether it's too easy for them, just right, or too difficult for them, DS babies only seem to try their best at tasks that are just the right difficulty. Tasks that are too easy or too hard are avoided, by use of social behaviors such as requesting an adult's help or trying to interact with the adult. In fact, very young DS infants often show cognitive skills at similar levels to NT children of the same age, but because they tend not to practice already-learnt skills, they lose those skills are have to relearn them over and over.

All in all, DS individuals have their own quirks, just like other genetic syndromes do. So why do we use DS as a control group when we wouldn't think of using Williams Syndrome or Fragile X Syndrome as a control group?

I'm not saying we should stop using Down Syndrome individuals as a control group for research into other syndromes. But we should always keep in mind that DS has it's own distinctive phenotype, and that may obscur or amplify the differences being studied. I'd especially be concerned about pairing a strength with a weakness, as occurs when Down Syndrome and Williams Syndrome individuals are paired for language tasks, or autistic and Down Syndrome individuals are paired for social tasks. And Down Syndrome shouldn't always be the first choice for a control group. Fragile X Syndrome is another common genetic syndrome that causes cognitive impairment, and for some tasks they may make a better control than Down Syndrome. At the very least, if Williams Syndrome individuals differ from both DS and Fragile X in similar ways on similar measures, we know it's more due to Williams Syndrome than their comparison group.

And for those people actually working with Down Syndrome individuals, trying to help them achieve to the best of their ability, it's important not to just assume that they'll do best with the same techniques used for all cognitively disabled people. Instead, they should look into techniques that address the unique features of Down Syndrome, such as errorless learning for their motivational quirks, or visual communication techniques such as reading or sign language to support their relatively poor verbal skills.

Indeed, it may turn out that there is no such thing as a mind that works just like NTs but learns at a slower rate. Perhaps every child with a cognitive disability has their own unique learning style that is drastically different, and generally less efficient, than the typical NT style. If we understand these learning styles we may get a lot more success in educating these children.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Factor Analysis of Newson Syndrome Traits

This is another analysis involving the same survey I was analyzing in this post. This one is a factor analysis of the characteristics asked about in the survey, to see if Newson Syndrome traits load on a single factor.

Firstly, I selected all those symptom questions that at least 90% of the sample answered, and did a factor analysis on them. The analysis showed 8 factors (italicized items loaded more strongly on a different factor):

  • Factor 1: acts incapable to demands (.740), tantrums to demands (.698), impulsivity (.646), makes nonsense sounds or interrupts to demands (.599), distracts to avoid demands (.559), aggression (.505), other demand response (-.464), distractibility (.405), unaware of other people's feelings (.312) and hyperactivity (.308)
  • Factor 2: doesn't want friends (.752), uses facial expressions (-.626), makes eye contact (-.612), seldom feels part of group (.506), uses gestures (-.356) and unaware of other people's feelings (.323)
  • Factor 3: complies to demands (.565), uses gestures (.533), other demand response (-.458), aggression (-.475), plays pretend (.408), hyperactivity (.404) and refuses to speak to demands (.315)
  • Factor 4: refuses to speak to demands (-.648), fantasy to demands (.428), hyperactivity (.417), distractibility (.397), echoing demands (.365), seldom feels part of group (-.353), and complies to demands (.316)
  • Factor 5: plays pretend (.668), fantasy to demands (-.595), unaware of people's feelings (.420), distractibility (.365) and distracts to avoid demands (-.311)
  • Factor 6: echoing demands (.700), hyperactivity (-.461), makes nonsense sounds or interrupts to demands (.324) and unaware of other people's feelings (-.302)
  • Factor 7: excuses self from demands (-.494), doesn't want friends (.369), makes nonsense sounds or interrupts to demands (.354), makes eye contact (.328), distracts to avoid demands (-.319) and uses gestures (.307)
  • Factor 8: unaware of other people's feelings (.452), uses facial expressions (.401), excuses self from demands (.367) and complies to demands (.343)
Similar to my last foray into factor analysis, this one spat out several factors that don't make much sense. However, Factor 1 looks like mostly demand avoidance, and Factor 2 is clearly social impairment.

Of the characteristics mentioned as PDA symptoms, it appears that pretend-related symptoms don't correlate all that strongly with demand avoidance.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Unity - They Do Have a Point

One thing that curebies often say to autistic self-advocates, when we criticize their advocacy efforts, is that we need 'unity'. We're all dealing with autism, they say, so we should stand together.

This comment generally enrages the self-advocate. 'Why should we unify with you when you won't listen to our concerns?' We say. 'Your advocacy efforts are doing more harm to us than good.' I know, that's what I've said myself.

And I still find the idea that we should ally with the likes of Autism Speaks ridiculous. It would be like LGTB rights activists allying with Exodus International, just because they're all dealing with homosexuality.

But there is a grain of truth to that statement, and that is that most people don't disagree on everything. And when you find an area that you agree with a person, it's no contradiction to stand in support of them on that issue - even if you disagree with other opinions they hold.

I attended an autism conference awhile back, where one of the presenters was doing a major sell job for ABA. I found his attitudes and his practices despicable, particularly how he reacted to an actual autistic person trying to question his treatments (he simultaneously claimed I was obviously not autistic based on five seconds of interaction, and claimed that I couldn't judge his ABA program based on watching him present about it for 2 hours!). And the chairwoman of the conference seemed to be practically in love with him, and wanted everyone to fawn over him like she did. I got a pretty poor opinion of her from that conference.

But then I saw her as a speaker in a different conference, a conference on inclusion. There, I heard her talk about how the school called her to tell her it had taken three adult men to restrain her son, when she had specifically told them never to restrain him. She talked about how violence is not acceptable in the management of disabled children, how she wanted her son to feel safe in his school. And I came up to her afterward to talk about how much I appreciated her saying that, and how the teachers in my school used to drag me out of hiding places by my arms, holding me hard enough to hurt.

I can stand by that woman when she speaks out against restraints, and our voices will be louder for being together. And there's no contradiction between that and standing against her when she supports cure-directed ABA and the attitudes that go along with it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Multiple Complex Developmental Disorder and Newson Syndrome

Several years ago, I made a survey to study Newson Syndrome. I've finally gotten all the data entered and have started analysis.

Firstly, the background data:

The survey was filled out about 96 people. Of those, 80 were the children of the respondants, 4 were students of the respondants, 9 filled out the survey about themselves and 3 had other relationships to the respodants (only one of those three, a grandparent, indicated the nature of their relationship). There were 64 boys and 32 girls. There were 12 with a diagnosis of Newson Syndrome, 22 with other autism spectrum conditions, 3 with autism and oppositional defiant disorder, 3 with autism spectrum and ADHD, 3 with learning disabilities, 2 with ADHD, 1 with ADHD and conduct disorder, 3 with ODD or CD, 2 with schizophrenic spectrum conditions (1 of whom was on the autistic spectrum), 1 with OCD, 11 undiagnosed and 33 left the diagnosis question blank. Only 76 entered the age of the person, with the age ranging from 3 to 61 years (average 12.23 years, SD 10.12 years).

I got criteria for the autism spectrum and Multiple Complex Developmental Disorder from Buitelaar and van der Gaag (1998). Only 18 provided enough information to classify them according to both criteria, of which 5 had both autism and MCDD, 6 had autism without MCDD, 1 had MCDD and not autism and 6 had neither. I grouped the MCDD kids together into one group.

Then I did a one-way ANOVA, and found the following significant results (note that age did not differ among the three groups):

  • MCDD individuals were more likely to be female than non-MCDD autistic individuals (4 girls and 2 boys with MCDD versus 6 autistic boys)
  • MCDD individuals were more likely than individuals in either other category to use speech for purposes other than communication
  • non-autistic, non-MCDD individuals were more likely to show interest in transportation devices such as cars or trains than either other group
  • MCDD individuals were more distractible than other autistic individuals

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Do Psychopaths Know Right From Wrong?

Apparently, a common question asked about psychopathy is 'are psychopaths criminally responsible? Do they know right from wrong?'

The experts all agree that psychopaths are criminally responsible. They understand that they are breaking the law, and they know that the justice system punishes that behavior. But what a lot of people overlook is that knowing legal from illegal is quite different from knowing right from wrong.

Intuitively, the majority of people get the distinction between illegal and wrong. They know something can be illegal but not wrong (eg stealing a loaf of bread when you're starving) and that something can be wrong but not illegal (eg pretending to be someone's friend so you can set them up for humiliation).

Psychopaths don't get this distinction. Fisher & Blair (1998) did an interesting study into children with psychopathic tendencies. Boys (8-16 years old) at boarding schools for children with emotional/behavioral difficulties were divided into two groups - psychopaths and non-psychopaths - based on their scores on a questionnaire filled out by their teachers. Each child was told stories about a character breaking the rules. Four of these stories involved harm to another person, such as an aggressive act or the destruction of other people's property. The other four were things like walking out of class halfway through or talking while the teacher is talking. Both psychopaths and non-psychopaths agreed that each story involved someone doing something wrong. Then they were told that one day, the teacher said that the particular behavior was OK. On that day, would that behavior be morally permissible?

Here's where the difference showed up. Non-psychopaths said that hurting others or destroying property was wrong, even if the teacher said it was OK, but that things like walking out of class or talking in class were only wrong if the teacher had a rule against them. Psychopaths made no such distinction - if the teacher said it was OK to hit your classmates, they thought it was OK to hit your classmates.

And it's not just that they don't care about right and wrong, or have an unconventional moral code. Blair (1995) administered the same test to adult violent criminals (mostly murderers) who scored high or low on psychopathy. Unexpectedly, many of the psychopaths said that harmful actions were still wrong, even if they weren't against the rules. But they said the exact same thing about the non-harmful rule infractions as well. These psychopaths, in hopes of getting parole, were trying to present themselves as reformed. But even when they tried to fake morality, they still didn't get the basic idea. They didn't understand what made hitting someone different from leaving class halfway through.

I don't think psychopaths choose to be bad instead of good. Instead, I think psychopaths don't understand what 'bad' and 'good' actually mean. Not that this means we should tolerate their behavior - it's important to protect victims whether or not the perpetrator understands what they're doing. But there's a difference between stopping someone from doing harm and condemning them for bad choices. I really don't think psychopaths have a choice about being bad, because in order to chose not to be bad, you need to understand what 'bad' is. The world must be confusing to them, with people shrugging off some things and getting very upset about other things, when those things really don't seem all that different.

Theory of Mind Test online

As far as I know, there are no online tests of Theory of Mind, so I decided to make one. It's available here.

Theory of Mind is basically the idea that other people have minds and that people, in interaction with each other, will try to figure out what other people are thinking and manipulate those thoughts by what they say. For example, they may decide to lie in order to cause another person to believe something that isn't true.

One major theory in autism research is that autistic people have difficulty with theory of mind. They may completely lack any idea that other people have thoughts, or they may be slow to learn this and have difficulty figuring out how this works.

This test is a multiple-choice version of the Strange Stories test, a relatively advanced theory of mind test designed for older adolescents or adults on the autistic spectrum. You can administer it to younger children, but be aware that even NT kids may score in the impaired range if they are 8 years old or younger. You can either answer the questions yourself or get your child to answer them by reading the question and answers to them.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Accuracy of Autism Self-Diagnosis

This was inspired by my previous post using data from the Wrong Planet discussion forum. I noticed that a large chunk of my sample were self-diagnosed, and that these individuals scored no differently on a self-report measure of empathy than the officially diagnosed respondents. However, I had a small sample size, especially when splitting into groups, and the test I was comparing them on wasn't a diagnostic test for autism spectrum conditions.

But that gave me an idea, and I found another Wrong Planet thread, a stickied thread where a poster had linked to several online tests useful for self-assessment of autistic traits. Overall, 237 people (myself included) had posted their results on at least one of these tests, including 63 diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, 20 with other autism spectrum conditions, 76 self-diagnosed Aspies, 65 who were unsure if they were on the spectrum or not, 11 with a family member on the spectrum and 2 neurotypicals. (The latter two groups were put together for further analysis.) There were 101 males and 136 females, similar to the gender ratio in my previous study. All the groups had similar gender ratios.

The tests taken were the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire, the Autism Spectrum Quotient, the Empathizing and Systemizing Quotients, the Emotional IQ Test, the Highly Sensitive Person test, the 'Reading the mind in the eyes' test, the Cambridge Face Memory test (the link is broken), the Aspie Quiz, the Asperger Syndrome Self-Assessment test and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. Of those 10 tests, 5 directly assess for autistic traits, 2 test for social skills but not other aspects of autism, and the last 3 assess conditions that commonly co-occur with autism.

A one-way ANOVA found significant differences between groups on the BAPQ aloof and pragmatic scales, ASQ, EQ and Aspie Quiz. In all of those cases, this difference was due to the family/NT group scoring as less autistic than the other groups. In most cases, all four autistic/possibly autistic groups scored significantly more autistic than the family/NT group, with the exception of the BAPQ pragmatic scale in which only the diagnosed Asperger Syndrome and the self-diagnosed group's differences reached significance (these groups also have the largest sample size). None of the other four groups showed any significant differences with each other.

Then I decided to see which percentage of individuals in each group met cutoff scores on the various tests.

The BAPQ is designed to assess the broader autistic phenotype, rather than autism spectrum conditions. As a result, the cutoff scores (89 for aloof, 81 for rigid and 79 for pragmatic) simply determine whether or not the person has a genetic predisposition to autism, and not whether they're autistic. However, autistic people would be expected to score quite high on this scale, and so they do (group differences almost significant at p=.073):
  • diagnosed AS: 87% meet cutoff on all three scales, 4% on 2 scales and 9% on one scale only
  • other autistic: 89% meet cutoff on all three scales and 11% on only 2 scales
  • self-diagnosed: 91% meet cutoff on all three scales, 4% on 2 scales and 1% on one scale only
  • unsure if autistic: 88% meet cutoff on all three scales, 10% on 2 scales and 2% on one scale
  • family/NT: 67% meet criteria on all three scales and 33% meet criteria on none of the scales (sample size of 3)
The ASQ is a test for autism spectrum conditions. Studies have shown that a cutoff of 32 shows good reliability in distinguishing autistic people from non-autistic people. This cutoff clearly distinguished the family/NT group from the others (p<.001, though the other autistic group fell short of significance):
  • diagnosed AS: 92% scored at or above 32
  • other autistic: 69% scored at or above 32
  • self-diagnosed: 95% scored at or above 32
  • unsure if autistic: 83% scored at or above 32
  • family/NT: 43% scored at or above 32
The Empathizing and Systemizing Quotients are based on the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism popularized by Simon Baron-Cohen. EQ is a measure of social skills and empathy, and SQ (the type used here is the SQ-R) is a measure of mechanical/scientific inclination. The ratio of EQ to SQ is used to classify individuals into four types - Extreme Empathizer, Empathizer, Balanced, Systemizer, and Extreme Systemizer. Autistic people usually score as Extreme Systemizers (family/NT differ from all other groups at p<.001):
  • diagnosed AS: 90% Extreme S, 3% S, 5% Balanced and 2% E
  • other autistic: 81% Extreme S, 13% S and 6% Balanced
  • self-diagnosed: 96% Extreme S, 4% S
  • unsure if autistic: 92% Extreme S, 6% S and 2% Balanced
  • family/NT: 50% Extreme S and 50% Extreme E (sample size of 4)
The Emotional Intelligence test was not designed to assess autistic people. Instead, it was designed in reaction to the observation that full-scale IQ has relatively poor power to predict lifetime success, leading researchers to suspect that another factor was important. It is designed to be normed like an IQ test, and therefore a score under 75 would be deficient. Between-group differences on this test were not significant(p=.498), with 40-70% of each group scoring below that cutoff. In general, it seems that autistic people tend to perform poorly on this test, but the effect is not very strong.

The Asperger Syndrome Self-Assessment had very low response rates, with 3 diagnosed AS, 1 other autistic, 1 self-diagnosed and 3 unsure if autistic participants filling it out. As a result, I will not analyze it further.

The Highly Sensitive Person test assesses a personality construct of high reactivity to physical and emotional stimuli. The stereotypical highly-sensitive person is highly empathetic and therefore not autistic, but the test taps many questions regarding sensory sensitivities and therefore autistic people are expected to score highly. The Cambridge Face Memory test assesses for prosopagnosia, an impairment in facial recognition. Prosopagnosia appears to be a common comorbid condition for autism. The Toronto Alexithymia Scale assesses alexithymia, an impairment in understanding one's own emotions (in contrast to the autistic impairment in understanding other people's emotions). Alexithymia is more common in autism spectrum individuals than the general population. However, only 5 respondents filled out the TAS, so I excluded it from further analysis. I assessed presence of the other two conditions, using a cutoff of 14 or above for the HSP test and less than 55% correct for the CFMT (differences between groups non-significant at p=.429 for HSP and p=.121 for prosopagnosia):
  • diagnosed AS: 94% highly sensitive, 22% prosopagnosic
  • other autistic: 93% highly sensitive, 30% prosopagnosic
  • self-diagnosed: 83% highly sensitive, 9% prosopagnosic
  • unsure if autistic: 85% highly sensitive, 6% prosopagnosic
  • family/NT: 67% highly sensitive, none prosopagnosic (sample size 3 for both)
In general, these results suggest that virtually all of the self-diagnosed and unsure if autistic groups probably are on the autism spectrum. But a single test does not determine this as well as multiple tests do. So I selected the three diagnostic tests with the best response rates - BAPQ, ASQ and EQSQ - and assessed how many scored in the autistic range on all three tests (above cutoff on all three scales of BAPQ, over 32 on ASQ and 'Extreme Systemizer'). Significant differences were found with a p=.037, post-hoc tests indicating that the family/NT group scored lower than all four other groups:
  • diagnosed AS: 84% scored 3, 8% scored 2, 4% scored 1 and 4% scored 0
  • other autistic: 67% scored 3, 8% scored 2 and 25% scored 1
  • self-diagnosed: 88% scored 3, 9% scored 2 and 3% scored 1
  • unsure if autistic: 70% scored 3, 23% scored 2 and 7% scored 1
  • family/NT: 50% scored 3 and 50% scored 0 (sample size 6)
So far, all results have suggested that self-diagnosed autistics, and even those who aren't sure if they're on the spectrum, generally score the same as people who were officially diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition. But most of these tests are self-report tests, and therefore do not necessarily indicate if others would perceive the self-diagnosed person as autistic. However, two tests in this bunch are objective performance tests - the Cambridge Face Memory test, and the Eyes test. The latter taps an area thought to be central to autism spectrum conditions, and showed no group differences.

Oddly enough, though, most of the participants, even those with official diagnoses, scored in the normal range or better on this test (22 or more correct), with 47% of diagnosed AS, 39% of other autistic, 28% of self-diagnosed, 32% of unsure and none (out of 2) of the family/NT group scoring in the deficient range. The average scores (22.03, 21.23, 23.65, 23.05 in the four autistic groups) are similar to the findings of Baron-Cohen et al (2001), and suggest that many high functioning autistics have too subtle of deficits for this test to detect. One possible alteration could be to make this test timed, as many autistic participants reported that this test took a long time to complete. (Also, a few reported giving up on the test because they had no clue about any of them, suggesting that some of the most severely-impaired participants may have been omitted from the test's analysis.) Another possibility might be to make it free response instead of multiple choice, since some participants said that what they thought was the correct answer was not even one of the options.

Ideally, I would like to run a study in which a large sample of self-diagnosed autistics were assessed by a team of psychologists experienced in diagnosing adult high-functioning autistics. However, this study suggests that self-diagnosed autistics - at least those on the Wrong Planet forum - score about the same as officially diagnosed autistics on a wide variety of tests. Contrary to the stereotype that self-diagnosis of autism is inaccurate, this study suggests that it's actually very accurate in the majority of cases. Undoubtedly some self-diagnosed autistics are not in fact on the autism spectrum, but so are some officially diagnosed autistics. And from what I can tell, the misdiagnosis rate is pretty similar between self-diagnosis and official diagnosis.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Autism and Types of Empathy

 fThis is another SPSS post. For this one, the data was gotten from a thread on the Wrong Planet forum, about this test (Word document) assessing four different kinds of empathy - Fantasy, Perspective Taking, Empathetic Concern and Personal Distress.

Twenty eight people posted their scores on the forum (including myself). One was excluded from this analysis because her profile described her as the family member of an autistic person instead of describing her as autistic. The remaining 27 were 11 males and 16 females (anecdotal observation suggests a more even gender ratio of autistic posters on forums than is found in epidemiological studies, probably suggesting that women are more likely to seek out an autistic community). According to their profiles, 8 were diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, 4 were diagnosed with another autism spectrum condition, 8 were self-diagnosed autistics and 7 were unsure if they were autistic or not.

Firstly, the accuracy of self-diagnosis has been questioned, and the unsure individuals could turn out to have conditions other than autism as well. So I compared diagnosed to undiagnosed on all four subtests, and found no significant differences (fantasy p=.836, perspective-taking p=.740, empathic concern p=.188 and personal distress p=.699). In addition, a one-way ANOVA of all four diagnostic groups found no significant differences, though the 'other ASD' group was very small so this has limited accuracy.

Average scores for the whole group were (comparison scores in brackets taken from the thread):
  • Fantasy - 16.19+/-7.67 (average scores: 15.73 for men; 18.75 for women)
  • Perspective Taking - 9.85+/-7.06 (average scores: 16.78 for men; 17.96 for women)
  • Empathic Concern - 17.19+/-6.63 (average scores: 19.04 for men; 21.67 for women)
  • Personal Distress - 16.22+/-6.17 (average scores: 9.46 for men; 12.28 for women)
As the comparison averages indicate, men and women tend to differ on multiple subtests. So I ran a T-test comparing male and female autistics next. Only Fantasy showed a significant difference at p=.002, with women scoring higher (19.69 vs 11.09). This is consistent with Lord et al (1982)'s finding that autistic boys showed more stereotypic play than autistic girls.

Then I ran a one-sample T-test to compare the participants' scores to the previously-reported averages. For Fantasy, since it showed gender differences, I compared males and females separately to their own gender's means. For the others, I took the average of the two gender means for comparison. The results were:
  • Fantasy - male p=.068 (almost significant), female p=.778 (not significant)
  • Perspective Taking - p>.001 (highly significant)
  • Empathic Concern - p=.020 (significant)
  • Personal Distress - p>.001 (highly significant)
So, autistics score lower on Perspective Taking, somewhat lower on Empathic Concern and higher on Personal Distress. Perspective Taking deficit is described as a central feature of autism spectrum conditions, so that result is not surprising. While all other score correlations were non-significant, Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking scores had a correlation of .591 (two-tailed p>.001), which explains the lowered Empathic Concern scores. Higher Personal Distress is in contrast with the findings of Corona et al (1998), who found that autistic children showed less reaction to an experimenter banging her knee and acting distressed as a result. However, this could be due to differences between self-report and observation. Autistics often state that they often are unaware of another person's distress, but if they are aware of it, they react emotionally. So perhaps the autistic children in Corona et al's study did not realize the experimenter was distressed, while the respondents on this test were reporting on situations in which they knew there was a problem.

Oh, and incidentally, my own scores were Fantasy 25, Empathic Concern 19, Perspective Taking 12, and Personal Distress 25.

Monday, August 01, 2011

What's So Amazing?

A lot of people, when they see someone calculate large numbers instantly in their head, or identify exactly which note was played just by hearing it, or draw a cityscape they saw only briefly from an airplane, they're amazed. And when they say so 'how did you do that?' the response is just a shrug. It was easy for them. They did it without thinking.

Have you ever been asked the time and guessed it before you looked at your watch? If you're like most people, you were probably within half an hour at most. If you wake up around 3 AM, you might even guess it's around 3 AM before you check the clock.

To me, time sense seems just as amazing as perfect pitch. Ask me the time, and unless I've just been given a major time cue, I could easily be two hours off. Talk to me, leave, and come back, and as far as I know you could've been gome 10 minutes or an hour. Wake me up in the middle of the night and act like it's morning, and I'll be puzzling over why I'm inexplicably tired.

But to most people, time sense is nothing. You don't even know how you do it. You don't do any mental strategies for it. I watch the clock on the computer, I set alarms, I wait for environmental cues, I start a TV episode so I'll know when it's done 30 minutes has gone by - ask me how I keep track of time, and I can tell you a bunch of things. None of which get me up to the level of performance of someone with a time sense.

It's the same with perfect pitch, instant arithmetic, or photographic memory. And what's going on is that some low-level, unconscious part of your brain devotes itself to just that task. You don't think about it, you don't know how you do it - all you get is the answer.

And it really isn't so amazing to you.