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Hypothesis and Theory ARTICLE
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  4. Autism spectrum disorder traits among prisoners

Nine of the 10 changed their diet, and started eating what the new group ate. One individual held out, however, and kept eating what he had always eaten. This inflexible, socially insensitive monkey quickly rose to take the top rank of the group he had migrated into. Does it take a gregarious and agreeable personality? Many studies now indicate that this is not the case e. Does acquiring and holding on to power take strong motivation? There are often more ambitious individuals than positions available, which would indicate that much motivation is needed. Where, then, could motivation to acquire power come from?

We shall consider evolutionary mechanisms, but let us first look at proximate causes.


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Having autistic traits tends to mean feeling a need for control and orderliness Kanner, ; Overskeid, That need may make you try to order the physical world, as in scientific research — and people with autistic traits seem especially drawn to the physical sciences Baron-Cohen et al. Yet holding social power may well mean having even more control. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, could be a case in point. I was a little idiot when it came to moving. High-functioning people with autism are often seen as analytical Bryson, , and can be socially detached Soderstrom et al.

An important reason for the success of a surprising number of people with many autistic traits, said Asperger , is the fact that people in this group tend to concentrate strongly on a special interest, which he thought could result in great accomplishments.

And when those tending toward autism choose politics, perhaps we should not be so surprised. It was perhaps to be expected, then, when researchers found autistic people to often be controlling and bossy Baron-Cohen, , with an intense and narrow focus on the goals or interests that preoccupy them see Bryson, ; Smith et al. This combination of traits may help people get ahead in many areas. Regarding where these individuals might want to get ahead, it is interesting to note that many individuals with autism do appear to take a strong interest in politics see, e.

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So when high-functioning autistic people are asked about their interests, science and gadgets are not the only subjects they mention — but also politics and closely related areas, such as the U. Congress, U. It does not seem unthinkable, then, that people with many autistic traits will try their luck in politics, and that some will reach positions of power. To most people, however, another consideration is also important: we want to be liked. At a minimum we want to avoid being disliked. There is competition for positions, and it is difficult to be popular among those one tries to beat and their allies.

Also, having won a position of power, one must make decisions that will often be opposed.

People observing politics outside of Washington have reached similar conclusions, for instance Machiavelli , in renaissance Italy, and Manmohan Singh, the former prime minister, in present day India see PM hints at, Not unexpectedly, then, many powerful people have been rather lonely figures Ludwig, This list must have an end, but finding more examples is not difficult e.

Those with many autistic traits also tend not to have many friends Lasgaard et al.


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  5. It should perhaps not surprise us, then, that powerful people often act in ways that do not normally further friendly relations. As we saw above: They tend to be more self-centered than others Galinsky et al. Many such characteristics we saw the powerful share with those who have autism see Table 1. A lack of interest in others and what they might think could leave you rather lonely, but such lack of interest need not be a handicap for the person wanting to gain and hold on to power — and it could be an advantage.

    Galinsky et al. And there is more. Not that he much minded being unpopular. It is also worth contemplating that even in animal leaders, lack of social sensitivity is widespread e. Johnstone and Manica see leaders across types of animals as stubborn, mostly acting the way they are themselves inclined to, not responding much to other group members. Interestingly, in humans, the most effective leaders appear to be those who do not behave in accordance with the cultural norms of the organizations they lead Hartnell et al.

    Autistic children, says Asperger , p. This could of course be different in humans — but it does not seem to be. We saw Gardner pointing out that those who go on to be leaders often confront authority from an early age. In Britain, the most rebellious member of Parliament for the 13 years that Labor was last in government, voting against his own party times, was Jeremy Corbyn Cowley, He is now the leader of the Labor party.

    Other recent British party leaders, Labor as well as Conservative, have also been rebellious in this sense — examples being Neil Kinnock and Iain Duncan Smith Cowley, In such circumstances, empathy can be a poor guide to ethically sound decision making Bloom, Instead, the best decisions will often be made by following utilitarian ethical rules, instead of trying to empathize with all affected individuals.

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    It is, for example, a common view that Congress was ethically right in declaring war on Germany in Yet too much empathy with those bound to suffer and die in that war might have made the decision difficult, though it ultimately helped rid the world of Nazism and thus prevented wretchedness affecting even more individuals.

    We saw that autistics and the powerful tend more often to make rule-based moral choices than do other people Lammers and Stapel, ; Baron-Cohen, Interestingly, Lucas and Sheeran assume that Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, had Asperger syndrome. In less dramatic situations, too, a powerful person may have few alternatives other than treating others as tools or as objects. In filling a post, you want the most qualified individual, even if another applicant would be bitterly disappointed by not getting the job. In other words, you want the best human tool, not the person who might most need your empathy.

    It is probably also a fact that those aiming for powerful positions may find that it necessary to use people and hurt feelings in order to satisfy their ambition. This, too, will likely be easier for those with some degree of social insensitivity. Hauser , p. Many powerful people have been described in ways that are consistent with a lack of social sensitivity.

    Now achieving power and keeping it are two different things. It seems reasonable, given the relevant data, that holding power can increase the tendency to make cold decisions Lammers and Stapel, , and be more self-centered Galinsky et al. Or maybe not. By the time Lyndon B. Johnson was a college student, he showed signs of limited empathy. He used threats to win a student election, and to have fun, he tricked an acquaintance into putting cow dung on his face, then telling others so they could ridicule the boy Caro, Much genuine empathy may not be necessary to rise in an organization.

    And we saw that even psychopaths can have impressive careers, at least in the corporate world e.

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    There is also evidence that following a simple rule of flattering those you want to influence can get you a long way Westphal and Stern, — and there is no doubt that people with many autistic traits can learn and practice complex sets of rules to master social interaction. It seems clear that those who have Asperger syndrome can do it Baron-Cohen, , and they get better as they get older Asperger, Schwenck et al.

    Furthermore, Baron-Cohen et al.

    For example, Baron-Cohen and Hammer found that parents of children with Asperger syndrome did worse than controls on a theory of mind-related test — while in a study of healthy university students, Kunihira et al. It does appear, however, that when the setting is competitive, many children with autism can track the beliefs of other individuals, thus indicating that, at least in this context, they have a theory of mind — even if the same kids fail traditional tests designed to gauge this construct Peterson et al.

    Politics, of course, is often very competitive, and might therefore also motivate theorizing about the minds of others.

    Autism spectrum disorder traits among prisoners

    Then subjects primed with high power can do even better than those primed with low power Schmid Mast et al. Whether voters voice considered opinions or form quick, automatic judgments, they appear to want competent political leaders Bull, ; Todorov et al. So let us look at relevant competence in high-functioning autistics. One aspect is memory: the autistic person will often have an impressive ability to remember facts, especially in his or her areas of special interest Kanner, ; Asperger, — and to become powerful in competitive fields like business or politics, business or politics must probably be your special interest.

    Moreover, not only do autistic people often have impressive memories, they also seem better than neurotypicals at distinguishing false from real memories e. But memory is not enough, other aspects of intelligence are also needed, and high-functioning people with autism appear to score higher on fluid intelligence than do controls matched for gender, age, and full IQ Hayashi et al.

    Specific thinking skills are certainly also important. There is evidence that those who have autism are able to think in more logical and less biased ways than typical controls with similar IQs De Martino et al.

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    Autistics are apparently also less prone to jumping to conclusions Brosnan et al. In addition, autistics and people with subthreshold autistic traits seem better than others at thinking creatively Kasirer and Mashal, ; Best et al.