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Empathy for the Devil

So the Guardian has these interactive quizzes up that are supposed to give you an "empathy quotient" and a "systematzing quotient" and then demonstrate that women are more empathetic and less systematic then men. Fair enough. Everybody loves a little pop evolutionary psychology. And I was totally prepared to believe that I'm less empathetic than the average person, or even less empathetic than the average un-empathetic man. But the test gave me an EQ of 14 which seems to indicate near-total dysfunctionality. I don't think I'm nearly that bad. Million Dollar Baby made my cry! That's empathy, damnit.

January 31, 2006 | Permalink


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I got a 10. Maybe my New Year's resolution should have been to become as empathetic as someone with Asberger's or high-functioning autism.

Posted by: ptm | Jan 31, 2006 11:29:11 AM

Please note that this quiz was designed by Ali G's cousin.

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Jan 31, 2006 11:35:23 AM


Maybe I lied a lot, or consider myself more empathetic than I actually am. On the other hand, persistent extreme paranoia if functional can train one in sensitivity. I cry with Emo records and almost every episode of Buffy and Angel. Heck, I felt tears welling up last night when Jack and the President forgave each hour.

Matt has certainly demonstrated his psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies, especially in reference to highly placed dogs. He needs to avoid that Theatre of Cruelty, Unfogged. Perhaps he could hang more with compassionate Ezra in order to learn how to fake it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 31, 2006 1:45:10 PM

I only got a 41 and I cried at the end of Cheaper By the Dozen!

Posted by: tps12 | Jan 31, 2006 1:45:57 PM

I got 43, and I never cry during movies except old yeller when I was a kid, though I cried about Brokeback Mountain later that night when I was home alone. I basically don't cry in public if I can help it.

I'm also a gay man, and men score either 41 or 42 on average versus women's 47, so apparently gay guys are more similar to average men then average women - which I always thought was the case.

P.S. Yes I know a single score on a single website by a single person doesn't mean anything.

Posted by: MDtoMN | Jan 31, 2006 1:52:32 PM

It felt more like a quiz that measured introversion vs. extroversion than one that measured capacity for empathy. And the "systemizing quotient" quiz was bedeviled by obviously gender-biased questions, e.g., "if something were wrong with the wiring in my home, I would definitely be able to fix it."

Posted by: annelina | Jan 31, 2006 1:53:10 PM

Simon Baron-Cohen's theory of "male brains" vs "female brains" was quoted by David Brooks in his discussion of that Linda Hirshman article. What Brooks didn't say was men with "male brains" tend to have lower than median levels of testostorone. Men who are good at math don't tend to be very macho.

Posted by: joe o | Jan 31, 2006 2:16:14 PM

43 Empathy, 25 Systematizing. I'm a guy.

I agree with the person who said Empathy seemed more like Extroversion than, well, Empathy; I consider myself a very empathetic person, but I'm also fairly uncomfortable around people who I don't know quite well, so even if I appear extroverted (which I often don't), it's more about effort than my natural state of being.

The Systematizing test was just stupid; it asked a bunch of questions already loaded with gender-biased prejudices (like the ideas that women get confused with maps and stuff) that were too specific to be diagnostic. Do I care about the precise species of plant? No, but I don't care about *plants*. Do I care about the precise species of animal? No, but I was a 10-year old animal-taxonomy geek; the subejct stopped being interesting to me when I realized how historically contingent it was. OTOH, I spend lunch breaks thinking about more logical ways to categorize basketball players or trying to work out the lineage of a musican's influences, so I've clearly got a mind that likes to put things into categories. It just has to be things I care about.

Posted by: Quarterican | Jan 31, 2006 2:35:10 PM

Don't worry about it...every time I take one of these darn tests I end up feeling like a complete jerk because it alwasys tells me that I'm like quick to judge and slow to empathize, or always use my head over my heart...just what a girl needs to hear to boost her self-esteem ;) ha.

Posted by: news lady | Jan 31, 2006 3:42:53 PM

Don't you try to pass off your crocodile tears as evidence of a soul, Matt Yglesias, you are dead inside. DEAD INSIDE, I tell you!

Posted by: justin | Jan 31, 2006 4:06:18 PM

17. I agree with the extroversion bit.

Posted by: Richard Campbell | Jan 31, 2006 4:08:31 PM

Please note that this quiz was designed by Ali G's cousin

Thanks, good to know. I was just about to make a snarky comment about, "how much can you expect to learn about empathy from a dude whose name sounds like Ali G's" and here you are with the truth. But, Ali G is engaged to Isla Fisher, so he must be doing something right in the expressiveness department or something.

I'm a girl and scored a 31--although I am terrible at figuring out how to behave in social situations or respond to other people emotionally, I do have a damn good bullshit meter, and for most of my life I had no life, so people tended to vent their issues to me and still do, despite recent (last few years) corrections in the lack of life department.

Posted by: flippantangel | Jan 31, 2006 5:01:35 PM

Is 3 bad?

Posted by: uhhh... | Jan 31, 2006 5:33:58 PM

"But the test gave me an EQ of 14 which seems to indicate near-total dysfunctionality. I don't think I'm nearly that bad. Million Dollar Baby made my cry! That's empathy, damnit."

I'm not altogether surprised.

Matthew is somewhat weak at political strategy, and I'd guess strength at that skill correlates quite closely with the ability to walk in another's shoes.


I disagree with the folks correlating empathy with extroversion. They really are two separate things. You can easily be simultaneously empathetic and shy.

However, empathy is a core component of a certain non-jerky style of extroversion. While you can certainly be an extrovert without being particularly empathetic, those types of extroverts are the ones people class as "assholes".


I got 46 Empathy, 42 Systematizing.

I think it's why I'm drawn to highly structured social response enterprises like national politics and cinema.


A bodhisattva would score 60 on both tests. The requirements for bodhisattva-hood are compassion and skillful means, which nicely correspond to the two categories the test is trying to measure.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2006 6:35:37 PM

...and the desire to see the shine of your Japan, the sparkle of your China.

BTW, what in the wide, wide world of sports does wanting or not wanting to go on a roller coaster have to do with how empathetic you are?

Posted by: R.J. Lehmann | Jan 31, 2006 6:56:04 PM

I got 29 empathy, 42 systematizing. That seems about right, although I agree that the questions on the empathy test seemed more focused on extroversion than empathy per se. Also, both of the tests kind of sucked.

Posted by: teofilo | Jan 31, 2006 7:33:38 PM

"the empathy test seemed more focused on extroversion than empathy per se"

I disagree. I was watching very carefully for activity questions, because I am a guy who recognizes another's distress, and then runs like hell. The questions were very careful about not asking what you do with your empathy.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 31, 2006 8:17:38 PM

"8. I find it hard to know what to do in a social situation."

"31. I enjoy being the centre of attention at any social gathering."

"35. I don't tend to find social situations confusing."

Granted, these were pretty much the only questions like this, but they certainly colored my perception of the test as a whole when I took it. When I looked through it again it seemed more properly focused on empathy, but I can understand the "extroversion" complaint.

Posted by: teofilo | Jan 31, 2006 8:35:32 PM

The problem I have with all tests like this is that since they are entirely self-reported, they measure only our own self-image, which is hardly an accurate marker for a socially-based trait like empathy. Maybe someone could take the quiz, and then have all his acquaintances answer the same questions about him, but otherwise internet quizzes can only ever tell us what we already think about ourselves.

Posted by: Mechant | Jan 31, 2006 8:40:57 PM

I got a 9.

Co-worker: "A 9? Man, you're dead inside."

Me: "No, it means if you were dead inside, I wouldn't give a fuck."

Posted by: gswift | Jan 31, 2006 10:07:51 PM

How irritating is it that the background is a woman with "E" on her head and a man with "S" on his? Or are they test-driving Steele's hypothesis that reminders of stereotypes affect test performance?

Posted by: Maureen | Feb 1, 2006 12:01:37 AM

13 E, 54 S. Female. Which does make me wonder if there might be a genetic component to my son's social problems.

Posted by: Ledasmom | Feb 1, 2006 12:34:22 AM

Petey: I got 46 Empathy, 42 Systematizing.

Huh. Matthew didn't give his SQ.

I got 44 and 76. So, I'm empathic AND have Asperger's?

['Well, yes, I can figure out when people are bored and I can visualize the exact layout of motorways, why do you ask?']

Posted by: ash | Feb 1, 2006 12:32:13 PM

"BTW, what in the wide, wide world of sports does wanting or not wanting to go on a roller coaster have to do with how empathetic you are?"

If you look at the answer key, you'll note that question is not scored. It's a dummy question.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 1, 2006 1:17:28 PM

I'm a woman, and everytime I take those stupid tests I score as right on the cusp of type S and extreme type S (E=40-something and S=60-something). Now when I ever I'm in an awkward social situation, I just excuse myself by saying that I'm borderline autistic.

Posted by: Jen | Feb 1, 2006 3:38:41 PM

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