April 11, 2020
Category:

The Empathy Quotient

Last updated on August 19, 2022

The Empathy Quotient (EQ) is a self-administered questionnaire designed to measure empathy in adults. It tests the ability to tune into how someone else is feeling, or what they might be thinking.

Basic information
Statements: 60
Duration: 5–10 minutes
Type: screening tool
Authors: Simon Baron-Cohen & Sally Wheelwright
Publishing year: 2004
Seminal paper: The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and Normal Sex Differences (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004)

 

Take the test here:


Dr. Natalie’s rating: 4 stars for appropriate and respectful wording, 2 stars for clarity & lack of ambiguity, and 5 stars for testing accuracy.Dr. Natalie’s rating: 4 stars for appropriate and respectful wording, 2 stars for clarity & lack of ambiguity, and 5 stars for testing accuracy.


Who the test is designed for

      • Autistic adults (age 16+) judged to have an IQ in the normal range (IQ >=80).
      • Versions for adolescents and children are also available.

Versions & translations


Taking the test

The EQ consists of 60 statements, giving you 4 choices for each statement:

      1. Definitely Agree = 2 points
      2. Slightly Agree = 1 point
      3. Slightly Disagree = 1 point
      4. Definitely Disagree = 2 points

The EQ comprises 60 statements, broken down into two types:

      • 40 statements on empathy, and;
      • 20 filler items.

Much of the confusion of the EQ comes from the 20 filler questions that were designed to distract the participant from a relentless focus on empathy. So the filler questions serve as a palate cleanser, which allegedly improves the accuracy of the given answers on non-filler questions.


Scoring


Validity

How reliable, accurate, valid, and up to date is the test?

      • The Empathy Quotient (EQ) is a widely misunderstood measurement. In actuality, it has good reliability and validity and falls into a normal bell curve. Everyone can be placed on this empathy spectrum (from high to low).
      • The EQ is a valid, reliable scale.[4]Measuring empathy: reliability and validity of the Empathy Quotient (Lawrence et al., 2004)
      • The EQ has a test-retest reliability of 0.835 over a period of 12 months, which indicates good reliability (a reliability of 1 is perfect).[5]Measuring empathy: reliability and validity of the Empathy Quotient (Lawrence et al., 2004)

Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht pointing to the title ‘Discussion’.

Discussion

Natalie:

I have an ambivalent relationship with Simon Baron-Cohen and his tests, and the Empathy Quotient is no exception. I score 32—much lower than the typical female score of 47. Martin scores a whopping 3, which is just outrageous. He is one of the kindest, most sensitive people I know.

Baron-Cohen created this test to measure empathy but is not explicit in what he means by that term. I know he considers all autistic people ‘zero positives’. A zero positive is a person who lacks both cognitive and emotional empathy but may contribute to society.

In terms of empathy, I have too much. I am what Baron-Cohen calls a level 6 (individuals with remarkable empathy). Level zero has no empathy at all. Hurting someone means nothing to them.

According to research and tests like the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire, I have much higher empathy (54 out of 80) than most people. Research shows that our theory of mind or cognitive empathy improves significantly with age. Though we have cognitive empathy, we don’t always choose to use it.

One danger of the EQ is it perpetuates both the belief that autistics having no empathy, and the differences as a disability myth. Furthermore, it is upsetting for many autistics to learn how low they score on this test. Irrespective of your score, you are considered a zero-positive. So no matter what, Simon stretches or chops our limbs to fit into his Procrustean bed.

Despite all of this, the Empathy Quotient does have a reasonable correlation with autism. I concluded that it measures our social and communication differences rather than our empathy, and indeed research supports this.

Kendall:
      • After receiving a score of 13 on the EQ, I could not understand why my score was so low. When I did the Toronto Empathy Score, I scored higher than normal empathy (48).
      • Learning about the filler questions was annoying. For example, the practical joke question. Practical jokes are mean and I dislike witnessing them. Why does that not display empathy?
      • The idea that empathy is a two-part process—identify what someone is thinking and respond with an appropriate emotion—seems accurate. I’m glad young Simon’s sister had a disability.
      • Part two is where the misunderstandings occur. The desired response is the neurotypical response. My ability to attribute mental states to another person is present but, the response is spoken in a different language. Does that make my response invalid or incorrect?

Embrace Autism | The Empathy Quotient | icon Test

Filler statements

The 20 filler statements have NOTHING to do with a person’s EQ score; they are simply disregarded, but serve to improve the accuracy of your answers. Still, I think it’s nice to know which statements are not counted on this test. They are:

      • 2. I prefer animals to humans.
      • 3. I try to keep up with the current trends and fashions.
      • 5. I dream most nights.
      • 7. I try to solve my own problems rather than discussing them with others.
      • 9. I am at my best first thing in the morning.
      • 13. I would never break a law, no matter how minor.
      • 16. I prefer practical jokes to verbal humor.
      • 17. I live life for today rather than the future.
      • 20. I tend to have very strong opinions about morality.
      • 23. I think that good manners are the most important thing a parent can teach their child.
      • 24. I like to do things on the spur of the moment.
      • 30. People often tell me that I am very unpredictable.
      • 31. I enjoy being the center of attention at any social gathering.
      • 33. I enjoy having discussions about politics.
      • 40. I can’t relax until I have done everything I had planned to do that day.
      • 45. I often start new hobbies but quickly become bored with them and move on to something else.
      • 47. I would be too nervous to go on a big rollercoaster.
      • 51. I like to be very organized in day-to-day life and often make lists of the chores I have to do.
      • 53. I don’t like to take risks.
      • 56. Before making a decision I always weigh up the pros and cons.

The EQ

Please read each statement carefully and rate how strongly you agree or disagree with it by selecting the circle under your answer. There are no right or wrong answers, or trick questions.

1. I can easily tell if someone else wants to enter a conversation.
2. I prefer animals to humans.
3. I try to keep up with the current trends and fashions.
4. I find it difficult to explain to others things that I understand easily, when they don’t understand it the first time.
5. I dream most nights.
6. I really enjoy caring for other people.
7. I try to solve my own problems rather than discussing them with others.
8. I find it hard to know what to do in a social situation.
9. I am at my best first thing in the morning.
10. People often tell me that I went too far in driving my point home in a discussion.
11. It doesn’t bother me too much if I am late meeting a friend.
12. Friendships and relationships are just too difficult, so I tend not to bother with them.
13. I would never break a law, no matter how minor.
14. I often find it difficult to judge if something is rude or polite.
15. In a conversation, I tend to focus on my own thoughts rather than on what my listener might be thinking.
16. I prefer practical jokes to verbal humor.
17. I live life for today rather than the future.
18. When I was a child, I enjoyed cutting up worms to see what would happen.
19. I can pick up quickly if someone says one thing but means another.
20. I tend to have very strong opinions about morality.
21. It is hard for me to see why some things upset people so much.
22. I find it easy to put myself in somebody else’s shoes.
23. I think that good manners are the most important thing a parent can teach their child.
24. I like to do things on the spur of the moment.
25. I am good at predicting how someone will feel.
26. I am quick to spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable.
27. If I say something that someone else is offended by, I think that that’s their problem, not mine.
28. If anyone asked me if I liked their haircut, I would reply truthfully, even if I didn’t like it.
29. I can’t always see why someone should have felt offended by a remark.
30. People often tell me that I am very unpredictable.
31. I enjoy being the center of attention at any social gathering.
32. Seeing people cry doesn’t really upset me.
33. I enjoy having discussions about politics.
34. I am very blunt, which some people take to be rudeness, even though this is unintentional.
35. I don’t find social situations confusing.
36. Other people tell me I am good at understanding how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
37. When I talk to people, I tend to talk about their experiences rather than my own.
38. It upsets me to see an animal in pain.
39. I am able to make decisions without being influenced by people’s feelings.
40. I can’t relax until I have done everything I had planned to do that day.
41. I can easily tell if someone else is interested or bored with what I am saying.
42. I get upset if I see people suffering on news programs.
43. Friends usually talk to me about their problems as they say that I am very understanding.
44. I can sense if I am intruding, even if the other person doesn’t tell me.
45. I often start new hobbies, but quickly become bored with them and move on to something else.
46. People sometimes tell me that I have gone too far with teasing.
47. I would be too nervous to go on a big rollercoaster.
48. Other people often say that I am insensitive, though I don’t always see why.
49. If I see a stranger in a group, I think that it is up to them to make an effort to join in.
50. I usually stay emotionally detached when watching a film.
51. I like to be very organized in day-to-day life and often make lists of the chores I have to do.
52. I can tune into how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively.
53. I don’t like to take risks.
54. I can easily work out what another person might want to talk about.
55. I can tell if someone is masking their true emotion.
56. Before making a decision, I always weigh up the pros and cons.
57. I don’t consciously work out the rules of social situations.
58. I am good at predicting what someone will do.
59. I tend to get emotionally involved with a friend’s problems.
60. I can usually appreciate the other person’s viewpoint, even if I don’t agree with it.


Recommended next steps

After the EQ, consider taking one of the tests below.

Systemizing Quotient

Measures your systemizing and pattern
finding proclivities and abilities

Toronto Empathy Questionnaire

Measures your emotional ability to
understand and respond to others

Toronto Alexithymia Scale

Measures difficulty in identifying and
describing emotions and feelings

Online autism tests can play an essential role in the process of self-discovery, and may inform your decision to pursue a formal diagnosis. For a formal assessment, please see a knowledgeable medical professional trained in assessing autism.


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References

This article
was written by:
dr-natalie-engelbrecht
Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht ND RP is a dually licensed naturopathic doctor and registered psychotherapist, and a Canadian leader in trauma, PTSD, and integrative medicine strictly informed by scientific research. And not only do I happen to be autistic, but my autism plays a significant role in who I am as a doctor and how I interact with and care for my patients and clients.

Disclaimer

Although our content is generally well-researched
and substantiated, or based on personal experience,
note that it does not constitute medical advice.

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