The field of psychology continues to offer several means of measuring empathy different from the traditionally known empathy measurement styles. Empathy has a relationship with age and autistic spectrum trait of an individual. The research aimed at determining the different AQ scores for adults between 19 and 70 years of age. In addition, the relationship between age and AQ and empathy measurement was investigated. The research used mixed methodology research design where interviews, questionnaires, and surveys were conducted. In addition, the Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) was used to test autistic like-traits among participants. The research results indicated that the autistic spectrum trait of a person depends on the age. Results indicated that the age of a participant did not affect the time (RT) spend in selecting correct or incorrect objects on the computer screen. In addition, it was discovered that the total AQ of an individual depends on the RT and the number of correct moves (AC).
The field of psychology continues to offer several means of measuring empathy different from the traditionally known empathy measurement styles. According to Batson (2009), empathy is a relationship occurring between central and peripheral nervous system activities. Alternatively, empathy can be defined as s complex social behavior initiated by a network of brain structures (Decety and Lamm, 2006). Keysar task involves a view of participants in a 4 by 4-vertical grid that had objects contained in different slots as shown in figure 1. The instructor called upon participants to move objects around the grid. The experiment contained people of different ages. Keysar discovered that adult participants could not follow given directions and always used different perspectives. A study conducted by Keysar (2003) revealed that 71% of participants make a bad selection in one of the four instructions given by the director. In addition, 46% of the participants repeated the mistake two or more times. In addition, Pernar et al (2003) introduced the perspective-taking problem that deals with understanding a representation. People have different ways of judging objects they observe involving integration of available information. In order to solve a perspective individual integrate the information provided with different perspective from one another. For instance, an adult will take individual perspective while interpreting information given by an instructor (a director on this case) (Keysar et al, 2000).
The 4 x 4 vertical grids used in the Keysar Task for empathy measurement
The Piaget and the three mountains (figure 2) as described by Borke (1975) claims that children have a self-centered view of the universe. A child seated on one side of the Paiget can observe both visible and hidden toys (Decety and Ickes, 2009). In addition, children between 8 and 9 years have the capability of observing toys in all perspectives. Empathy loss has become a common feature among people depending on their ages (Wellman, Cross & Watson, 2001). This study was carried out on different respondents to determine the effect of Adult Autism Spectrum Quotien and age on the individual’s empathy. The psychological approach of this study aimed at understanding the behavior associated with empathy. Many data was collected and analyzed on different respondents.
Figure 2: The Piaget and the three mountains
According to Saxe, Carey & Kanwisher (2004), a two-year child has the capacity of understanding what adults see. Doherty (2008) also argued that most people who are neuroscience professionals suggest that many basic abilities found in human beings emerge at the age of four years while others claim they start at younger ages (Onish & Baillargeon, 2005; Wu & Keysar, 2007). On the other hand, other studies reveal different finding about empathy measurements for older children. Recent researchers have seen people developing interest in older people based on cognitive resources for executive control.
On the other hand, autism spectrum has a relationship with empathy in adults (Baron-Cohen et al, 2001). Researchers have not yet discovered an instrument to measure how a normal adult could develop traits associated with autistic spectrum (Chakrabartiet al, 2009; Folstein & Rutter, 1998). From the data collected, on Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), several instances of were recorded with individuals recording scores of ranges between 0 and 50. Baron-Cohen et al (2001) developed a relationship between adult with Autism Spectrum and empathy and discovered that people who have clinical diagnosis score higher on the AQ test compared to others. The following study tries to discover how these AQ scores are related to age. In addition, the study will test the capability of using of adult AQ as an instrument for screening and detecting unrecognized cases of autism.
This research was conducted because of the following reasons. Firstly, most of researchers conducted on empathy measurement concentrate on sex and age of individuals. The following research has no comparison of sex at any point suggesting that the relationships on individual nervous system are not determined by gender. Secondly, the research used different approaches from other psychological studies on AQ. The participants were first recruited in order to ensure they only provide the required details to give no room for errors that might affect the results. Finally, the research’s main objective is to investigate the performance of individuals based on high and low AQ scores as found in the Keysar task.
Aims of the study
The research was guided by the following aims:
H1: There is a relationship between reaction time and total AQ score
Ho: There is a relationship between age and reaction time on total AQ.
Seventy-three participants between ages of 19 and 70 took part in this experiment with a mean age of 34 years (m= 34). The research made use of Keysar Task in empathy measurement. Stinmulus materials were used each consisting of 4 x4 shelves as the one on figure 1 with objects located in half of the shelves (8 objects). The shelves had different backgrounds. For each trial, participants received instructions from the director via a microphone to move one of the eight objects into different slots in shelves. The movements made were either right, left, up or down.
The research made use of both male and female adult participants although their genders were not recorded. The selected participants were trained at Roehampton University in order to familiarize them with data collection instruments to used. In addition, the participants mean age, standard deviation and the range was taken and recorded. A small sample of 73 participants was s selected in order to ensure validity and reliability of data collected and avoid wasting a lot of time investigating large groups.
The research materials selected should be those that could enable the study achieve the research aims (Finding Research Instruments, Surveys and Tests, 2013). The SMI I View X heads-mounted eye-tracking system was used in following the participants’ eye movements as they shifted objects on the screen. The Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient was used to measure autistic-like traits among participants in the normal population. Computers and Eprime were also utilized in recording participants’ empathy levels at different instances.
– The participants were selected at taken to Roehampton University for training.
– Once the cursor reaches an area desired by the participant, he or she could press the left mouse button with the index finger of the right hand and release the object.
– The response time (RT) for each participant was measured from the period the visual stimulus was presented to click of the mouse button.
– In addition, the accuracy of each participant was recorded alongside with the respond time.
– All the recorded data was fed into the computer SPSS program for analysis and the following results were produced.
On this point, all participants who scored an AQ of 2. 5 sd and below were excluded from the overall RT mean. According to Ames (2004), an AQ score of 2. 5 and below does not form perfect data for conducting an analysis of age and empathy levels in adults. The remaining results are shown in table 2.
The Keysat Task for measuring empathy concentrated on results of correct response time (correct RT), Correct answers (correct ACC), incorrect response time (incorrect RT), incorrect answers (incorrect ACC), and total AQ score (AQ total). The total correct answers were 16 therefore; the incorrect ACC was achieved by subtracting correct ACC from 16. The correct response time was the time taken to achieve correct movements. The results showed a substantial effect of age on total AQ, and an extreme support on the given hypotheses. In addition, the results were not consistent because the AQ totals were not affected by the age of the participant. For instance, taking a the first participant 20 years of age, the correct response time was 2555. 8 seconds and made 8 correct answers. The total AQ for this participant was 20. The participant used less time to move objects on the screen and scored half of the total scores on the array. If a random comparison was made with another participant, say 50 years, the total response time was 2907. 25 and score 16 and a total AQ of 9. The following results are tabulated on figure 3.
Figure 3: A bar graph showing the relationship between age and total AQ scores
Figure 4: Relationship between age and correct RT
Figure 5: the relationship between age, correct answers (AC), AQ total, and RT (in minutes)
Figure 3 shows that there was no significant relationship between the age of participant and the total AQ score. The participants who scored high in the AQ test seemed to spend more time to move the objects on the screen. As seen from figure 3, even old participants could spend less time to make many correct movements compared to younger participants. This makes the first hypotheses true because the results indicate a relationship between reaction time (RT) and the total AQ score. From figure 4, the relationship between age and RT is described. The line graph shows no correlation between the two variables. It indicates that the reaction time of a participant depended on how first the person could move the objects correctly and age was not a determinant. There was a case of a 50 years old participant moving 13 objects in 2907. 25 seconds while a while a 19 years old participant moved 7 objects correctly in 2398. 2 seconds. The more correct moves a participant made the lower the total AQ score. The overall comparison of results is shown on the bar graph, figure 5. The second hypotheses was not true because there was no significant relationship between age, response time, and AQ.
Inferential statistics for your hypotheses
Inferential statistics infers a sample from the total population. The probability of the population was determined from the characteristics of the sample groups. According to (Newing & Eagle (2010), inferential statistics assist in assessing the relationship between dependent variables and independent variables in a test experiment. Using the stated hypotheses, a complete list of the population sample was randomly selected from the participants. The size of the sample was determined to be large enough hence, inferential statistics could occur. The T-test/ ANOVA was used for testing the hypothesis (Bernstein & Bernstein, 1999). From table 1, the variance between the means of the sample can be calculated as below:
Given a mean (M = 33) of age of participants after data cleaning, the results can be used to test the hypotheses.
.. Eq 1 (Weinbach & Grinnell, 2007).
For RT = 429/34) + (306. 07/33)
= √21. 9
variance = 4. 68
The t value was calculated as follows:
t = (34-33)/4. 68
= 0. 214
A relationship between Reaction time (RT), age, and acceptability was realized. 73 participants were tested and after data cleaning only 55 participants scored more than 2. 5 sd of the RT mean. From the results, 50% of the participants made errors in moving in following director’s instructions. From the T-test, the (P = 0. 05) value was not exceeded meaning that age did not affect the performance of participants. The tabulated t value greater that 0. 05 hence, we reject the null hypotheses. The results show that the total AQ score of participants was independent of age but dependent on the correct answers on the number of objects selected correctly.
Summary of findings
As Keysar (2000) pointed out on his task, adults fail in their conceptual competence in empathy measurement. The results reveal that the age of an individual has a direct relationship on the autism spectrum. As seen from table 2, participants between 19 to 35 years recorded higher AQ scores. In addition, Apperly, Samson & Humphreys (2009) suggested that the AQ of adults depend on the degree of significance of their empathy. The study of Keysar task was a clear revelation that participants’ performances were based on the number of correct/incorrect answers provided in the interview (Mckinnon & Moscovitch, 2007; Pickering & Garrod, 2004).
In terms of correctness, people of ages between 25 and 55 seemed to memorize many of director’s instructions as opposed to participants of ages 35 and above. In addition, the social interaction between participants and the director seemed to have equal scores. According to Quartz (2011), neuroscientists claim that an individual’s brain maintains some social habits as opposed to virtues of communication and memorizing instructions as years keep evolving (Hanna & Brennan, 2007). As Gazzola et al (2007) suggests, participants are likely to have higher response levels depending on the nature of the situation.
Strengths and limitations
– High participants turn out
– Limited number of errors
– Moat participants were willing work with research assistants
– Some data collection instruments failed especially where the literacy levels of participants was low
– Some research assistants gave false results as they spent time on private matters
– Breakdown or lack of power while using computers for data collection especially with Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient
The use of Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient was an efficient tool for conducting this research because it gave the correct and valid results. From the research, it was discovered that the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) was a perfect instrument for measuring the degree of intelligence of individuals who show autistic traits. As shown on the introduction, there is no big difference between how people reason with their ages. Through the participants’ feedback, the researcher could easily pin point the correct and incorrect movements directly from the screen. The null hypotheses was rejected because the research found no relationship between an individual’s RT and number of years.
Ames, D. R. (2004). “ Inside the mind reader’s tool kit: Projection and stereotyping in mental state inference”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 340–353.
Apperly, I. A., Samson, D., & Humphreys, G. W. (2009). Studies of adults can inform accounts of theory of mind development. Developmental Psychology 45(1), 190-201.
Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J. and Clubley, E. (2001). The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ): evidence from Asperger Syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Published: Journal of Autism and Developmntal Disorders, 31, 5-17.
Batson, C. D. (2009). These things called empathy: Eight related by distinct phenomena. In J.
Decety and W. Ickes (Eds.), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (pp. 3-15). Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press.
Bernstein, S., & Bernstein, R. (1999). Inferential statistics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Chakrabarti, B., Dudbridge, f., Kent, L., Wheelwright, S., Hill-Cawthorne, G., Allison, H. C., Banerjee-Basu, S. and Baron-Cohen, S. (2009). Genes Related to Sex Steroids, Neural Growth, and Social-Emotional Behavior are Associated with Autistic Traits, Empathy, and Asperger Syndrome, Autism Research.
Decety, J., and Lamm, C. (2006). Human empathy through the lens of social neuroscience.
The Scientific World Journal, 6, 1146-1163.
Decety, J., and Ickes, W. (Eds.). (2009). The social neuroscience of empathy. Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press.
Farrer, C., Frith, C. D., (2002). “ Experiencing oneself vs. another person as being the cause of
an action: the neural correlates of the experience of agency.” Neuroimage 15,
Folstein, S., & Rutter, M. (1988). “ Autism: familial aggregation and genetic implications”. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 3–30.
Hanna, J. E. & Brennan, S. E. (2007) Speakers’ eye gaze disambiguates referring expressions early during face-to-face conversation. Journal of Memory and Language, 57(4), 596-615.
Joppe, M. (2000). The Research Process. Retrieved May 15, 2013 from:
http://www. ryerson. ca/~mjoppe/rp. htm
Gazzola Valeria, Giacomo Rizzolatti, Bruno Wicker, and Christian Keysers. (2007). ” The
Anthropomorphic Brain: the mirror neuron system responds to human and robotic
actions.” NeuroImage 35 (4): 1674-1684.
Keysar, B., Barr, D. J., Balin, J. A., & Brauner, J. S. (2000). Taking perspective in conversation:
the role of mutual knowledge in comprehension. Psychological Sciences, 11, 32–38.
Keysar, B., Lin, S. H., & Barr, D. J. (2003). Limits on theory of mind use in adults. Cognition, 89(1). 25-41.
McKinnon, M. C. & Moscovitch, M. (2007) Domain-general contributions to social reasoning: Theory of mind and deontic reasoning re-explored. Cognition, 102(2), 179-218.
Mikkelsen, B. (2005). Methods for development work and research: a new guide for
practitioners (2nd ed.). New Delhi: SAGE Publications.
Newing, H., & Eagle, C. M. (2010). Conducting Research in Conservation Social Science
Methods and Practice.. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.
Onishi, K. H., & Baillargeon, R. (2005). Do 15-Month-Old Infants Understand False Beliefs? Science, 308(8), 255-258.
Perner, J., Brandl, J. L., & Garnham, A. (2003). What is a perspective taking problem?
Developmental issues in belief ascription and dual identity. Facta Philosophia
Pickering, M. J. & Garrod, S. (2004) Towards a mechanistic psychology of dialogue. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 169-226.
Quartz, S. (2011). Resposne to ” Why Habit Matters: The Bodily Characteristics of the
Virtues”. Paper read at Understanding Virtue New Directions Bridging Neuroscience and Philosophy, May 19, at Pasadena Community Church, Pasadena, CA.
Ragin, C., Nagel, J. & White, P. (2004). Workshop on Scientific Foundations of Qualitative Research. Washington: National Science
Saxe, R., Carey, S., & Kanwisher, N. (2004). Understanding other minds: Linking developmental psychology and functional neuroimaging. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 87-124.
Weinbach, R. W., & Grinnell, R. M. (2007). Statistics for social workers (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Wellman, H. M., Cross, D., & Watson, J. (2001). Meta-analysis of theory-of-mind development: The truth about false belief. Child Development, 72, 655-684.
Wu, S. & Keysar, B. (2007). Cultural effects on perspective taking. Psychological Science, 18, 600-606.