The evolution of religious behavior

December 25th, 2009

The excellent book The biology of Religious Behavior edited by Jay R Feierman provides an excellent framework on how to understand the biology and evolution of religion.

Viewed from a neurodiversity-perspective, there are certain troublesome aspects of religious behaviors:

  1. Shamanism and delusions seems to be related to neurodiversity
  2. Prosocial behaviors, submission and cooperative behaviors seems to be neurotypical

The Neanderthal Theory proposes that neurodiversity-traits are of neanderthal origin. So how could the current religious behaviors have evolved? Since major components seems to be recent, but of different origin, it is probably necesary to analyze African/Asian modern humans separately from Neanderthals, and try to figure out what was common before the split of humans into Eurasian Neanderthals and African/South Asian Homo, what evolved later in African/South Asian Homo, what was introgressed from Neanderthal, and how this admixture contributed to today’s religious behaviors.

We today know from many finds in Africa that symbolism, ornamentation and similar behaviors evolved there at the time of the emergence of modern humans. These behaviors group with neurotypical compulsion in Aspie-quiz, and also contain status, reputation and  gossip. These are clearly the prosocial dimension of religious behavior described in the book. It works just as well to differentiate an ingroup based on cloth or ornamentation as on supernatural beliefs. In fact, cloth and music taste  are the behaviors that often define groups in secular societies. So, it is logical to propose that pre-hybrid modern humans evolved the prosocial dimension of religious behaviors, but probably not in the context of supernatural beliefs, but more likely based on possessings and ornamentation.

When it comes to supernatural beliefs and music, the evidence is in favor of a Neanderthal origin. All the questions in Aspie-quiz about supernatural beliefs cluster together, and when the groups in Aspie-quiz were reduced to six neurotypical and six Aspie groups (with the same names), the supernatural group was merged into Aspie perception. These traits have no relation at all to the prosocial behaviors in neurotypical compulsion.

Aspie perception contains a wide range of more sensitive senses and reduced pain sensitivity. This increased sensitivity developed as a natural adaptation to Neanderthal passive hunting (Aspie hunting). Aspie hunting is closely related to Aspie perception, and contains traits like mimicking animal sounds, making traps and alike. Neanderthal hunting, unlike the group hunting of modern humans, would be conductive to developing a very fine-tuned psychology of the prey animals, including mimicking their sounds and understanding their behaviors. This is called animanism in the book, and it is clearly a neurodiversity trait. It is also the case that stims (called self-stimulatory or repetitive behaviors by psychiatry, but related to Aspie communication in Aspie-quiz) are strongly related to Aspie hunting. Mimicking animal sounds fits both as a stim and as an passive hunting trait. Thus, we might presume that the nonverbal communication behaviors of Neanderthals evolved to be useful for passive hunting and to trick prey animals. This has some interesting predictions regarding mirror neurons that are also described in the book. More likely, the relevance of mirror neurons is not for neurotypicals, but for the Aspie variant of mirror neurons, as it was Neanderthals that adapted their mirror neurons to be extra sensitive to their prey animals, and not modern humans.

When it comes to music, the first musical instruments are found in Europe, not in Africa. These are flutes. Flutes and musical instruments fits well with tricking animals. They still functioned in this way in pastoral settings in Sweden only a century ago.  They have no obvious function in relation to the prosocial behaviors of modern humans.

So, it makes sense that highly sensitive senses, musical ability and superior understanding of animal behavior and communication were Neanderthal traits that introgressed into modern humans. These abilities proved useful in their new context, and as a consequence some of the bearers were recruited as shamans, witch-doctors and healers. Later, these “mystical” traits were exaptated into the prosocial behaviors as belief in supernatural things, as people could not understand the extra-sensitive abilities of these people.

Adding to the evidence is that fasting and enduring pain are also neurodiversity-traits. These were traits associated with the shamanistic phenotype.

Building character – how does it relate to Aspies?

December 12th, 2009

Building character is an interesting publication that can be found here: link.

While most people (including myself) agree that “good character” is an important trait, and that this is a highly wanted outcome for a child, the test used to measure this (SDQ) seems to be highly inappropriate. The SDQ-test is necesarily highly negatively correlated with ADD/ADHD, ASCs and neurodiversity in general. By using this test they will not measure character traits in neurodiverse people in a meaningful way. Still, it is evident that at least some of the traits in SDQ are not inherited traits, but negative outcomes for being neurodiverse and having a bad upbringing, so it could still be relevant for neurodiverse children as long as the objective is not to measure neurodiverse children against neurotypical children.

That said, here are some of the main conclusions:

  1. Attachment has a large positive effect on outcome
  2. Rules and rule inforcement has a smaller effect on outcome, but it has a large negative effect when lack of rules is combined with weak attachment
  3. High self-esteem and sense of control is a strong predictor for good outcome
  4. Depression is a strong predictor of poor outcome
  5. There are extra-sensitive children with “negative temperament”

I think it is a given that attachment and warmth (in contrast to hostility) is a major factor in parenting any child, neurodiverse or not. This could have increasing importance for the neurodiverse child.

It also seems that the section about negative temperaments could very well describe the neurodiverse child which has a strong dislike for authority. They do not elaborate and compare this group of children’s outcomes between the rule-not rule dimension of parenting, which otherwise would be pretty interesting.

High self-esteem, sense of control and depression are things that parents acquire because of their own childhood, environment and life experience, and thus this is a factor that could be transfered from parent to child without being genetic. Problems in this area are also frequently associated with neurodiversity. This is thus a confounding factor that is not genetically related to neurodiversity, but to the discrimination / bad behavior against  neurodiverse people. It is also important to note that improper attitudes from social authorities towards neurodiverse people in some countries like Sweden and Norway could create negative feedback loops when social authorities implement unwanted “help” and persecution of neurodiverse people.

Rules and enforcement of rules is a special case. It is not obvious from the design how the rules are implemented. They only ask participants about how many rules they have, and if they are strictly enforced. This misses out on a very important aspect of rules related to dislike of authority that is related to neurodiversity. At some other place they mentioned a study of consistent use of reward and punishment combined with encouraging autonomy in the child being related to positive outcomes. This research also do not answer the question about only reward and punishment (and especially in relation to dislike for authority).

That reward and punishment is not effective on children with dislike for authority is almost a given. Especially not if rules are made up arbitrarily. In order to make a child with dislike for authority to accept rules, it is necesary for the child to understand the rule, to understand why it exists, and on its own accepting the rule as valid and good. Only when this procedure is used will the child accept the rule, and it will then need no reward or punishment in order to follow it. If it doesn’t accept the rule, no level of reward or punishment can make it accept it, and the child will become difficult and argumentative instead, which could affect the primary parameter of attachment. The best parents of children with dislike for authority tend to be parents that have good attachment and few rules and low enforcement, or that have many rules that the child accepts and few rules the child doesn’t accept.

Aspie social

September 19th, 2009

The new Aspie social group has now been incorporated into Aspie-quiz. It basically contains the previous sexuality & relationship, activity and paranoia groups.  Several issues that previously didn’t group has also been added to Aspie social.

So what exactly is Aspie social, and how does the social environment of Aspies work?

Here is one cluster:

  1. Partner obsessions
  2. Unusual sexual preferences
  3. Being more sexually attracted to strangers than to people one knows well
  4. Being asexual
  5. Having compulsive sexual behavior
  6. Being in love with more than one person at the same time
  7. Similar attitudes towards faithfulness as NTs

These traits seems somewhat incompatible. So, how do these traits actually go together? First, a guess of what might be included in “unusual sexual preferences” might be in order. Previous research has ruled out that unusual sexual preferences is mainly HBT (homo-, bi- and transsexuality), because these have too low relevance to be able to explain it (if they have any relevance at all). More likely unusual sexual preferences are paraphilias.

Number 1 and 7 combined seems to be typical long-term relationships. Number 2, 3 and 5 are probably “contact” behaviors, especially since they are expressed towards strangers and not towards already bonded partners. 6 seems to indicate that several partner obsessions can be present at the same time, and thus that bonding isn’t  necesarily related to monogamous practises.

Here are some other social behaviors:

  1. Trouble with authority
  2. Expecting others to have the same friends and enemies as oneself
  3. Always wanting to be with ones partner
  4. A preference to find ones own niche in life and doing things oneself
  5. A preference to hyperfocus on things, and needing a lot of motivation to getting started with things
  6. A preference for animals over people

These also does not seem fully consistent at a first look, but somehow it must possible to explain why these are related.

Number 1 seems to be a preference for a non-leadership, flat organizational model. This model in fact is frequently seen in computer companies, and many Aspies seem to work in such environments, and apparantly influence the choice of organization model at these companies.  Number 4,5 and 6 all indicate individualistic preferences, but how do these go together with 2 and 3? I think a good guess is that the preference is to actually be close to other people that one is bonded to, while still doing lots of things on one own. This is not as inconsistent as it might seem. This can be observed in working, long-time relationships between Aspies.

But how is asexuality from above related to all of this? Probably because as people become bonded to each others, the sexual interest declines. When the bond is developped, sex is only for reproduction. This can easily be misinterpreted as being asexual! Another thing is that asexuality has a certain relation to environmental issues, and thus can be the thing as asexuality in deprived animals in captivity.

This has some important implications for relationships:

  1. Unlike in typical relationships, the lack of sex in an Aspie-Aspie relationship is a good sign, and not a bad one.
  2. When Aspies are in relationships with neurotypicals, they need to consider the preference of neurotypicals that sex is what keeps the bond alive (or the neurotypical partner needs to understand that his/her partner is not disinterested in the relationship because of the lack of sexual interest).
  3. Aspies needs to have their “time-alone” while still having their partner nearby.

Finally, a few other social traits:

  1. Unusual eating patterns
  2. Unusual sleeping patterns
  3. Lesser motivation to stay clean
  4. Feelings that cycle between hopelessness and high confidence
  5. A highly variable activity level
  6. Getting depressed during winter-time

These things seems to be related to way of life in a seasonal environment with highly variable food availability.

A final warning is in order here. Not all Aspies have these social preferences, and some instead work just like any neurotypical in this regard. However, it is important to understand that some Aspies are like this, and that people can make things easier for them by accepting their preferences if possible, or explain how people usually are so they can adapt.

Relevance of Attwoods Aspie criteria

September 1st, 2009

A while ago I checked Tony Attwoods “Aspie criteria” in Aspie-quiz. The statements were reformulated as questions and added as experimental questions (and thus were mixed-up with ordinary questions). It was done like this so people would answer them truthfully. Attwoods statements have mixed relevance, with a few highly relevant statements, and some with absolutely no relevance.

Very good relevance (more than 0.6 in correlation to Aspie-score)

  • Do you have acute sensitivity to specific sensory experiences and stimuli (e.g. hearing, touch, vision, and/or smell)?

Good relevance (between 0.45 and 0.59 in correlation)

  • Do you dislike discussing a topic that may not be of primary interest?
  • Do you have an strong preferece for detail over gestalt?
  • Do you have an original, often unique perspective in problem solving?
  • Do you have an avid perseverance in gathering and cataloguing information on a topic of interest?
  • Do you have knowledge of routines and a focused desire to maintain order and accuracy?

Some relevance (between 0.3 and 0.44 in correlation)

  • Do you speak your mind irrespective of social context or adherence to personal beliefs?
  • Do you seek an audience or friends capable of enthusiasm for unique interests and topics?
  • Are you primarily interested in significant contributions to conversation over ritualistic small talk or socially trivial statements and superficial conversation?
  • Do you prefer conversation free of hidden meaning or agenda?
  • Do you have an advanced use of pictorial metaphors?
  • Do you have exceptional memory and/or recall of details often forgotten or disregarded by others, for example: names, dates, schedules, routines?
  • Are your thoughts persistent?
  • Do you have encyclopaedic or “CD ROM” knowledge of one or more topics?
  • Are you values/decision making unaltered by political or financial factors?
  • Are you a “social unsung hero” with trusting optimism: frequent victim of social weaknesses of others, while steadfast in the belief of the possibility of genuine friendship?

Insignificant relavance (between 0.15 and 0.29 in correlation)

  • Do you show absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability in peer relationships?
  • Are you determined to seek the truth?
  • Do you have an advanced vocabulary and interest in words?
  • Are you fascinated with word-based humor (e.g. puns)?
  • Do you often take care of others outside the range of typical development?

No relevance (less than 0.15 in correlation)

  • Are you free of sexist, “age-ist” or culturalist biases and regard others at “face value”?
  • Do you have the ability to pursue personal theory or perspective despite conflicting evidence?
  • Do you listen without continual judgement or assumption?
  • Do you seek sincere, positive, genuine friends with an unassuming sense of humor?
  • Are you good at individual sports and games, particularly those involving endurance or visual accuracy, including rowing, swimming, bowling, chess?
  • Have you attended university after high school?

Most of the statements are related to Aspie talent, which is expected.

The AQ test vs Aspie-quiz

August 30th, 2009

It is claimed in publications about the validity of the AQ test by Simon-Baron Cohen that 80% of diagnosed AS will score in the Autistic range while only 2% of controls will. This seems to indicate a very reliable test with good discriminitative power.

The cutoff to “very likely Aspie” in Aspie-quiz was originally set in version 7 to provide similar properties for diagnosed AS/HFA/PDD as the AQ test (80% would get their diagnosis confirmed). The control groups in Aspie-quiz however has much higher amount of “very likely Aspie” than the AQ tests 2% (the average is around 16%). This seems to indicate much worse discriminitative power of Aspie-quiz.

To evaluate relative discriminative power between the AQ test and Aspie-quiz it is necesary to administrer both tests to the same population. This has been done twice in Aspie-quiz. The first time was in version R4 (an early experimental version) and the second was in version F1 (the first final version).

Results from R4:

  • 81% of diagnosed AS/HFA score above the cutoff in the AQ test compared to 75% in Aspie-quiz (6% difference)
  • 66% of all males score above the cutoff in the AQ test compared to 58% in Aspie-quiz (8% difference)
  • 50% of all females score above the cutoff in the AQ test compared to 43% in Aspie-quiz (7% difference)

Results from F1:

  • 59% of diagnosed AS/HFA/PDD score above the cutoff in the AQ test compared to 70% in Aspie-quiz (11% difference)
  • 42% of all males score above the cutoff in the AQ test compared to 46% in Aspie-quiz (4% difference)
  • 45% of all females score above the cutoff in the AQ test compared to 50% in Aspie-quiz (5% difference)
  • 16% in the NT control group score above the cuttoff in the AQ test compared to 19% in Aspie-quiz (3% difference)

In version R4, the AQ test consistently gave higher scores in all groups (but primarily in the whole group and the male group). In version F1, Aspie-quiz consistently gave higher scores in all groups (but primarily in the diagnosed and female group and to a lesser extent in the whole group and the control group). These findings seems to show that Aspie-quiz has slightly higher discriminative power than the AQ test.

The correlation between score difference in Aspie-quiz and AQ score is 0.83 in both R4 and F1.

The AQ test was developped specifically with the DSM definition of AS in mind, while the intention of Aspie-quiz is to identify positive, autistic personality-traits in adults. We would thus expect the AQ test to have much better discriminative power for AS/HFA than Aspie-quiz, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Why is this? A hint is that six questions in the AQ test has no relevance whatsoever for Autism.

These questions are:

  • If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind.
  • When I’m reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like.
  • I find making up stories easy.
  • I am not very good at remembering phone numbers.
  • I don’t usually notice small changes in a situation or a person’s appearance.
  • I am not very good at remembering people’s date of birth.

Some of the above issues were early stereotypes put forward by some autism-researchers that Autistics would lack imagination, which of course is not at all true. Another 2-3 questions related to pretending also have very weak relevance.

When 12% of the questions in the AQ test lacks relevance for Autism, it is not that strange that Aspie-quiz can do a better job at discriminating AS/HFA.

The AQ test also focuses only on six of the twelve groups in Aspie-quiz’ spider-diagram. These are:

  • Neurotypical social
  • Neurotypical communication
  • Aspie compulsion
  • Aspie ability
  • Neurotypical ability
  • Aspie perception (one question only)

It does not have any relevant questions for:

  • Aspie activity
  • Aspie hunting
  • Aspie communication
  • Neurotypical compulsion
  • Neurotypical hunting
  • Neurotypical perception

Aspie friendships

August 25th, 2009

Here are two pretty revealing questions about friendships:

  1. Do you prefer to have friends of the opposite gender?
  2. Are friends of the same gender important to you?

One would expect these to be opposites, and they are. Their linkage to Aspie and/or neurotypical scores seems less obvious. Without deeper knowledge about this, it would be hard to believe any of them are relevant to being Aspie or neurotypical. The fact is that 1 is related to Aspie score and 2 is related to neurotypical score.

The traits related to a preference to have friends of the same gender are in the neurotypical compulsion group, and especially Do you prefer the company of those of the same generation as yourself? So, neurotypicals seems to have a preference to socialize in same-age groups and primarily with people of the same gender when it comes to friendships and with the opposite gender for relationships. This is hardly news as these traits cannot be missed in society.

The question about a preference to have friends of the opposite gender has different relations. It is related to:

  1. Have you experienced stronger than normal attachments to certain people?
  2. Do you tend to lean towards your partner when you are at a restaurant or party?
  3. Do you tend to become obsessed with a potential partner and cannot let go of him/her?

These are the partner-obsession traits previously analysed in Aspie relationships. These traits group in the environmental group and in the Aspie communication group. They are related to environmental traits like depression because they give big problems in a society that think friendships are between peers of the same gender. The relation to Aspie communication is probably the natural connection.

These results have implications about how the natural social environment of Aspies work. If it is not based on same-gender, age-matched friendships, how does it work? A good guess might be that friendships does not even exist in the natural Aspie environment. What does exist is group-bonding, and the bonds primarily seem to exist between people of the opposite gender. A good guess would also be that what looks like opposite gender friendships naturally develop into relationships over time. This is why this trait is related to relationship questions. The previous finding that being in love in more than one person at the time is an Aspie relationship-type-of-trait fits nicely into the picture, because this indeed indicates a group-bonded social context rather than a monogamous, male-female social context.

Other indicative traits are these:

  1. Do you prefer to only meet people you know, one-on-one, or in small, familiar groups?
  2. Do you feel uncomfortable with strangers?

The above traits also indicate a preference for being with the same people all the time, and being reluctant to socialize with strangers. However, they do not point in the direction of a single male-female social context which exist in other primate species. These traits taken together point to a closed group social environment with no pair-bonding within.

As with the relationship traits, the correlation with Aspie score is weak, and thus this way of functioning cannot be generalized to the whole group.

How questions in Aspie-quiz are related to each other

August 18th, 2009

A fundamental property of questions in Aspie-quiz is how they are related to each others. There is a general tendency for questions that have good relevance for Aspie/neurotypical scores (have a high correlation with scores) to also have high average correlation with other questions. This is shown in the following diagram which plots score correlation (x-axis) versus average correlation with other questions (y-axis) for 1,370 questions:

Question correlations

This property is very important for grouping questions and finding clusters in the dataset. As can also be seen above, if a question have high correlation with score, it will inevitably be correlated to about anything you want to ask. This is a common mistake in psychiatric research, and especially in research that includes Aspie traits. In fact, it is possible to group Aspie traits in about any collection of syndromes if the only criteria for traits to belong together  is that they are correlated to each others.

Another way to show this is by plotting score correlation (x-axis) versus highest correlation with all other questions (y-axis):

highcorr_html_19926c51

A similar thing appears. Questions with high score correlation will seldom have low correlation with all other questions.

These findings have important implications for finding clusters. Instead of finding clusters by only looking at correlations, which will give too small clusters if questions have low score correlation and too large clusters if questions have high score correlation, another method is needed. What is needed is to compare correlations with score correlation. So, when presenting correlated questions to a specific question, one should not use a absolute correlation cutoff, but rather a relative cutoff. Using 80% of score correlation as a cutoff usually works quite well and gives good clusters regardless of a questions score correlation.

This also works in the reverse way. If a set of questions is put together, and it is found that they are highly dependent on each others (without being identical), this is an indication that these questions are measuring Aspie traits.

Aspies and relationships

August 16th, 2009

I recently researched love and relationships in Aspie-quiz. First I added a number of typical romantic questions from a swedish quiz posted on aspergerforum.se. These questions didn’t go very well and showed mixed relevance. While the traditional romantic questions seemed at least weakly linked, they showed no consistent linkage with the Aspie/neurotypical dimension. Instead, some questions were linked to neurotypical compulsion (“Do you enjoy a good love story?”) while others seemed linked to Aspie communication (“Do you tend to lean towards your partner when you are at a restaurant or party?”).

Something needed to be done to resolve this. Therefore I added another nine questions from older versions of Aspie-quiz that seemed to be related to the topic of love and relationships. This seemed to clear up the issue.

The primarily linked questions now are these (intercorrelations are in  range 0.4-0.55 which is much higher than between romantic questions that have 0.2-0.3):

  1. Is it harder for you than for others to get over a failed relationship?
  2. Have you experienced stronger than normal attachments to certain people?
  3. Do you tend to become obsessed with a potential partner and cannot let go of him/her?
  4. Do you refuse to give up on a relationship or potential relationship that others would not bother with?

Here 2 and 3 seems to be the primary traits, while 1 and 4 are problems these causes in a non-Aspie adapted world. Both 2 and 3 have simlar relevance (a little above 0.4 correlation with Aspie-score), and are best related to each others and to the problems 1 and 4. This means that Aspie attachment to people is mostly related to obsessions with a potential partner (partner obsession) rather than to other compulsive traits. One can imagine this behavior can lead to stalking when combined with other traits.

Now, using these now established Aspie-traits one can look at linkage for other traits in the romance quiz. First, let’s look at the trait above characterized as linked to Aspie communication (“Do you tend to lean towards your partner when you are at a restaurant or party?”). It is linked to the following traits:

  1. Do you refuse to give up on a relationship or potential relationship that others would not bother with?
  2. Do you save love-letters?
  3. Is it harder for you than for others to get over a failed relationship?
  4. Have you experienced stronger than normal attachments to certain people?
  5. Do you tend to become obsessed with a potential partner and cannot let go of him/her?

It seems evident that this trait is related to the partner obsession trait from above.  It also shows linkage to one of the core romantic traits (2).

Finally, looking at the core romantic traits, it is evident that these clusters are also related to partner obsession. The romantic cluster looks like this:

  1. Do you save love-letters?
  2. Do you enjoy a good love story?
  3. Have you and a partner ever had a song of your own?
  4. Is it harder for you than for others to get over a failed relationship?
  5. Do you refuse to give up on a relationship or potential relationship that others would not bother with?
  6. Do you tend to become obsessed with a potential partner and cannot let go of him/her?
  7. Do you tend to lean towards your partner when you are at a restaurant or party?
  8. Do you hope to meet the “right one”?
  9. Do you believe in fate when it comes to love?

This seems to show that romantic traits really can be said to be Aspie in nature, but because Aspies have so many failures in relationships many of the individual traits shows no significant correlation to Aspie score (and in some cases shows correlation to neurotypical score). To research it, linkage studies between traits are needed, and partner obsession must be taken into account. Romantic love in fact seems to be a form of partner obsession.

Another (odd) cluster is this:

  1. Have you been in love with more than one person at the same time?
  2. Have you experienced stronger than normal attachments to certain people?

Contrary to the traditional view of romantic love, partner obsession doesn’t seem to be a monogamous thing. Here being in love with several people at the same time is shown to be related to partner obsession.

There are some other clusters related to sexuality as well:

  1. If you were single, would you find casual sex (one-night stands) rewarding?
  2. Do you have compulsive sexual behavior, e.g. spend too much time on sex or switch sexual partner frequently?

Finding these traits positively correlated is rather strange because 1 is correlated to neurotypical score while 2 is correlated to Aspie score. However, here it is also necesary to look at opportunity. Aspies seldom can persue casual sex and this is pretty much why they answer this question negatively. It is an issue of opportunity. The second question doesn’t need a real partner, but can be persued with pornography.

A final cluster shows how these traits are related to other sexuality issues in Aspie-quiz:

  1. Do you have compulsive sexual behavior, e.g. spend too much time on sex or switch sexual partner frequently?
  2. Do you have unusual sexual preferences?
  3. Have you have had long-lasting urges to take revenge?
  4. Are you hypo- or hypersensitive to physical pain, or even enjoy some types of pain?
  5. Do you tend to say things that are considered socially inappropriate?

Compulsive sexual behavior is related to unusual sexual preferences. It is also related to an urge to take revenge (this could be the missing trait that creates the stalker).

So what does this mean for the average Aspie? Not much as the correlation with Aspie score is weak. What it does show is that romatic traits must have been part of the original Aspie profile before these traits diluted into the general population. It also shows that the romantic traits did not evolve in a simple male-female monogamous environment.