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Moral foundations in autistic people and people with systemizing minds.

Molecular Autism 2024 May 15
BACKGROUND: Do autistic people share the same moral foundations as typical people? Here we built on two prominent theories in psychology, moral foundations theory and the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory, to observe the nature of morality in autistic people and systemizers.

METHODS: In dataset 1, we measured five foundations of moral judgements (Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity) measured by the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) in autistic (n = 307) and typical people (n = 415) along with their scores on the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient (SQ). In dataset 2, we measured these same five foundations along with E-S cognitive types (previously referred to as "brain types") in a large sample of typical people (N = 7595).

RESULTS: Autistic people scored the same on Care (i.e., concern for others) as typical people (h1). Their affective empathy (but not their cognitive empathy) scores were positively correlated with Care. Autistic people were more likely to endorse Fairness (i.e., giving people what they are owed, and treating them with justice) over Care (h2). Their systemizing scores were positively correlated with Fairness. Autistic people or those with a systemizing cognitive profile had lower scores on binding foundations: Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity (h3). Systemizing in typical people was positively correlated with Liberty (i.e., hypervigilance against oppression), which is a sixth moral foundation (h4). Although the majority of people in all five E-S cognitive types self-identified as liberal, with a skew towards empathizing (h5), the percentage of libertarians was highest in systemizing cognitive types (h6). E-S cognitive types accounted for 2 to 3 times more variance for Care than did sex.

LIMITATIONS: Our study is limited by its reliance on self-report measures and a focus on moral judgements rather than behavior or decision-making. Further, only dataset 2 measured political identification, therefore we were unable to assess politics in autistic people.

CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that some moral foundations in autistic people are similar to those in typical people (despite the difficulties in social interaction that are part of autism), and some are subtly different. These subtle differences vary depending on empathizing and systemizing cognitive types.

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