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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



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).


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.


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.


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.

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