High anxiety levels are associated with divergent empathising and systemising tendencies

P. A. Strutt, L. E. Campbell, D. Burke

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“Systemising” and “Empathising” are two cognitive tendencies that individuals rely on to make sense of the world. Systemising involves the observation of environmental contingencies and the consequent formulation of concrete rules to predict events. Empathising is the drive to attribute affective states to others, and to guide responses based on these inferences. High Anxiety is linked to negative, and erroneous, interpretations of social information, and it is possible that the introduction of systems, and therefore predictive utility, might appeal to anxious individuals. It was hypothesised that individuals with high trait anxiety levels would report higher systemising tendencies and lower empathising tendencies than their less anxious peers. A total of 223 participants completed measures of trait anxiety, empathising and systemising tendencies, and autistic traits. Consistent with the hypotheses, individuals with higher levels of trait anxiety demonstrated high systemising tendencies and relatively low empathising tendencies, whilst their less anxious peers demonstrated balanced tendencies in both domains. The High Anxiety group also scored highest on the self-reported measure of autistic traits. This research has identified anxiety as a potential facilitator of divergence in cognitive tendencies, which will be further enhanced by studies in clinical populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number981973
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalCogent Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • autism
  • social skills
  • cognitive development
  • social development
  • empathy


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