Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Do girls with anorexia nervosa have elevated autistic traits?

Simon Baron-Cohen12*, Tony Jaffa3, Sarah Davies3, Bonnie Auyeung1, Carrie Allison1 and Sally Wheelwright1

Author Affiliations

1 Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge University, 18B Trumpington Rd, Cambridge CB2 8AH, UK

2 CLASS Clinic, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK

3 Phoenix Centre, Ida Darwin, Fulbourn, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK

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Molecular Autism 2013, 4:24  doi:10.1186/2040-2392-4-24

Published: 6 August 2013

Abstract

Background

Patients with anorexia may have elevated autistic traits. In this study, we tested test whether patients with anorexia nervosa (anorexia) have an elevated score on a dimensional measure of autistic traits, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), as well as on trait measures relevant to the autism spectrum: the Empathy Quotient (EQ), and the Systemizing Quotient (SQ).

Methods

Two groups were tested: (1) female adolescents with anorexia: n = 66, aged 12 to 18 years; and (2) female adolescents without anorexia: n =1,609, aged 12 to 18 years. Both groups were tested using the AQ, EQ, and SQ, via the parent-report adolescent versions for patients aged 12 to 15 years old, and the self-report adult versions for patients aged over 16 years.

Results

As predicted, the patients with anorexia had a higher AQ and SQ. Their EQ score was reduced, but only for the parent-report version in the younger age group. Using EQ-SQ scores to calculate ‘cognitive types’, patients with anorexia were more likely to show the Type S profile (systemizing (S) better than empathy (E)), compared with typical females.

Conclusions

Females with anorexia have elevated autistic traits. Clinicians should consider if a focus on autistic traits might be helpful in the assessment and treatment of anorexia. Future research needs to establish if these results reflect traits or states associated with anorexia.

Keywords:
Autistic traits; Anorexia; Autism spectrum conditions; Broader autism phenotype