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Evidence of Partner Similarity for Autistic Traits, Systemizing, and Theory of Mind via Facial Expressions

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gareth RichardsORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


It has been hypothesised that romantic partners are more similar than chance in relation to autistic traits. To test this theory, we recruited n=105 heterosexual couples and examined within-couple correlations for autistic traits (measured using the Autism Spectrum Quotient [AQ]), empathizing (measured using the Empathy Quotient [EQ]), and systemizing (measured using the Systemizing Quotient-Revised [SQ-R]). For a subsample that attended the lab (n=58), we also investigated theory of mind via facial expressions using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) and attention to detail, a component within systemizing, using the Embedded Figures Task (EFT). Variable-centred analyses revealed positive within-couple correlations for all measures except EQ, although these effects were only statistically significant for unmarried couples and not for married/engaged couples. Follow-up analyses indicated that the observed couple similarity effects are likely consistent with people pairing with those more similar than chance (initial assortment) rather than becoming alike over time (convergence), and to seeking out self-resembling partners (active assortment) rather than pairing in this manner via social stratification processes (social homogamy). Additionally, a significant within-couple correlation for autistic traits was observed at the meta-analytic level. However, it should be noted that the meta-analytic effect size estimate was small (r = 0.153) and indicates that only ~2% of variance in a person’s score on a phenotypic measure of autistic traits can be predicted by that of their partner.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Richards G, Baron-Cohen S, Warrier V, Mellor B, Davies J, Gee L, Galvin J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Scientific Reports

Year: 2022

Volume: 12

Online publication date: 19/05/2022

Acceptance date: 17/03/2022

Date deposited: 17/03/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2045-2322

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-11592-z


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Funder referenceFunder name
777394IMI Joint Undertaking
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England at Cambridgeshire
Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
SDG 17-18-1.2