Empathising-systemising (E-S) theory

Simon Baron-Cohen has become well known in the media for the development of empathising-systemising (E-S) theory.

 Simon Baron-Cohen

Empathising is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. Systemising is the drive to analyse and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system and the drive to construct systems. The theory argues that people with autism are hard wired to be very good at systemising and very bad at emphasising.

With the Department of Culture, Simon has collaborated in producing an animated series called the The Transporters.

The series was created especially for children with autism who find it hard to recognise causes of emotion and facial expressions of emotion. The Transporters is a world of imaginary toy vehicle characters who have emotional experiences and adventures. It aims to help children enhance their understanding of the causes of emotions and of emotional expressions.


Children with autism tend to love vehicles, probably because they move predictably. They seem to dislike objects that move unpredictably. But children with autism love vehicles that are much more constrained in their movements – like trams, cable cars, trains and funiculars.

With The Transporters, children who do not naturally want to look at peoples’ unpredictable faces may be interested in the characters’ faces. These are ‘grafted’ onto predictable, attractive vehicles. Then it becomes easier to learn to understand their expressions.

According to Simon Baron Cohen “The Transporters aims to teach not just some basic emotions (happy, sad, angry, disgust, fear, surprise) but also some more complex ones (ashamed, joking, jealous, proud, tired, sorry, kind, excited, worried, unfriendly, and grumpy). The aim is that through hours of repetitive TV watching, children with autism, instead of turning away from faces as they usually do because they are so unpredictable, thus missing out on crucial experience in learning about emotional expressions, will tune into faces without even realising they are doing so. If you are a child who has difficulties with ’empathy’, such that it is puzzling why a person’s facial expression has suddenly changed, the hope is that you could become familiar with how people look when they are surprised or afraid or proud through massive exposure to these patterns”.

You can watch sample episodes at

Furthermore, Simon Baron-Cohen believes that there are essential differences between the male and female brain. He argues that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, and that the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.


According to this theory, a person (whether male or female) has a particular “brain type”. There are three common brain types: for some individuals, empathising is stronger than systemising. This is called the female brain, or a brain of type E. For other individuals, systemising is stronger than empathising. This is called the male brain, or a brain of type S. Yet other individuals are equally strong in their systemising and empathising. This is called the “balanced brain”, or a brain of type B.

There are tests you can take to see which type (E, S, or B) you are.

You can try a test here at the bbc mind site

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One Response to “Empathising-systemising (E-S) theory”

  1. Gordon Carter October 9, 2007 at 12:01 pm #

    When I woke up to the possibility that ToM has taken maybe three millions years to evolve I had left it in the margins of my mind. That realistion jump started my empathetic potential. In so doing I’ve coined a word hypoempatica to describe my previous condition.

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