How are autism and schizotypy related? Evidence from a non-clinical population


Both autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) and schizophrenia spectrum conditions (SSCs) involve altered or impaired social and communicative functioning, but whether these shared features indicate overlapping or different etiological factors is unknown. We outline three hypotheses (overlapping, independent, and diametric) for the possible relationship between ASCs and SSCs, and compare their predictions for the expected relationships between autistic and schizotypal phenotypes using the Autism Spectrum Quotient and the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief Revised from a large non-clinical sample of undergraduate students. Consistent with previous research, autistic features were positively associated with several schizotypal features, with the most overlap occurring between interpersonal schizotypy and autistic social and communication phenotypes. The first component of a principal components analysis (PCA) of subscale scores reflected these positive correlations, and suggested the presence of an axis (PC1) representing general social interest and aptitude. By contrast, the second principal component (PC2) exhibited a pattern of positive and negative loadings indicative of an axis from autism to positive schizotypy, such that positive schizotypal features loaded in the opposite direction to core autistic features. These overall PCA patterns were replicated in a second data set from a Japanese population. To evaluate the validity of our interpretation of the PCA results, we measured handedness and mental rotation ability, as these are established correlates of SSCs and ASCs, respectively. PC2 scores were significantly associated with hand preference, such that increasingly ‘schizotypal’ scores predicted reduced strength of handedness, which is consistent with previous research. PC1 scores were positively related to performance on the mental rotation task, suggesting trade-offs between social skills and visual-spatial ability. These results provide novel evidence for an autism-positive schizotypy axis, and highlight the importance of recognizing that psychological variation involving reduced social interest and functioning may have diverse causes.

PLoS ONE 8(5): e63316