I relocated to Atlanta, Georgia two years ago from snow capital USA; otherwise known as Buffalo, NY (you may recall it from the recent early snow storm which made headlines nationwide). For the most part, I love the Atlanta weather and the new possibilities that a bigger city has afforded me. However, there are a few things about Atlanta that I really hate, I won’t bore you with the entire list, however, if you are a female of child-bearing age and not already in a serious relationship, you might want to avoid moving here; Atlanta is a complete dating vacuum. It’s difficult enough for anyone to get a date here I’m sure, but if you are a woman you find yourself in a particularly unique situation. Sure, “unique” can be good, but in the sense that I am using it, “unique” means: your worst nightmare. Atlanta is one of those places where there are significantly more women than men, which even for a considerably attractive, successful woman makes it somewhat more challenging to find a suitable other half. (My recommendation ladies: try Alaska – I hear it’s rumored to have a 4:1; men to woman ratio). Jokes aside, I recently picked up a copy of SEED magazine, and for a few minutes the outlook for singles everywhere seemed to be somewhat bleak.

In an article in the November 2006 edition titled “When Two Minds Think Alike” Simon Baron-Cohen discusses theories of Assortative Mating and how choosing a mate with certain types of personalities could increase your risk of having an autistic child. Assortative mating states that two animals of the same species often end up mating when they have a common or similar trait. The article gives the example that a man who is tall will end up dating taller women, in an effort to select a mate more like themselves. What does assortative mating have to do with your risk of having a child that develops autism? To begin, the article states;

We know that autism runs in families, and that if a child with autism is a twin, the changes of the other twin also having autism is much higher if the twin is identical. This tells us that genes are likely to be an important part of the explanation and that one should look at the parents of children with autism for clues.

Baron-Cohen’s studies have uncovered four traits of parents which he believes leads to a higher risk of producing a child which may develop autism, these include;

1) Both parents of children with autism are likely to be super-fast on attention tasks, in which the purpose is to spot a detail as quickly as possible.

2) Both parents have an increased likelihood of having a father who worked in the field of engineering.

3) Both parents are more likely to have elevated scores on subtle measures of autistic traits.

4) Both parents show a trend toward a more male pattern of brain activity when measure with an MRI.

However, Baron-Cohen also goes on to say that the probability of both parents possessing all these similarities is minute and that he supposes that “something” must be causing individuals with such strong similarities to be attracted to one another. He believes that “something” may be a strong trend toward systemizing, which he describes as “the drive to analyze the details of a system in order to understand how it works”. Children with autism are believed to have a brain which is highly systematizing or hyper-systematizing, which Baron-Cohen believes may be the affect of two persons mating who are adept at systematizing. Evidence from his studies supports assortative mating for systematizing. In addition his findings also suggest that these couples tend to be very detail oriented and highly analytic.

What does this mean for single people everywhere?

Baron-Cohen makes a pretty good argument for assortative mating and how compounding certain traits could increase the risk of having an autistic child. Enough so that I was a bit deflated after reading this article, especially being a highly analytic and detail-oriented individual, to say nothing of the fact that I am currently dating an engineer! However, my mind is somewhat alleviated by the fact that there is likely more than genetics playing a part in the development of autism. A recent article posted on CNN.com “Mutated gene raises autism risk, study finds” on October 16, 2006, which discusses how a genetic mutation may increase your likelihood of producing an autistic child, also states that the causes of autism could be linked to a variety of things and that there are a number of factors which would need to be present in order for autism to express itself. The article also sites research in which even environmental factors such as television watching could play a role in child developing autism.

I guess this means we can’t start weeding out potential mates based on personality traits alone, unless of course you find the trait completely offensive anyhow. Don’t shy away from those engineers until we have definitive proof, I’m not going to.