"Internet Asperger's Syndrome" and "Austistic economics"

« previous post | next post »

The ordinary-language meaning of technical terms often wanders far from home, following paths of connotative association and denotative opportunity. We've followed the semantic travels of "passive voice" through meanings like "vague about agency", "stylistically listless", and "failure to take sides". I recently read that writers should "Use an active voice (putting things in present/future) instead of a passive voice (putting things in the past)".

The terminology of the "autism spectrum" seems to have started a similar journey through successive steps of family resemblance.

For example, Jason Calacanis ("We Live in Public (and the end of empathy)", 1/28/2009), used the term "Internet Asperger's Syndrome" to  describe the reaction to a late-90s "art project" in which his friend Josh Harris "put a couple dozen cameras all over his loft and recorded the inevitable breakdown of his life with the love of his life", and set up internet chat rooms for public discussion of the results.

The commenters in the chat rooms were so "vicious", according to Calacanis, that "it took Josh five years to recover": something about the experiment "robbed the subjects — and their audience — of every last ounce of empathy". This leads Calacanis to propose what he calls "Harris' Law":

At some point, all humanity in an online community is lost, and the goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another person.

And he says that he's come to "recognize a new disorder, the underlying cause of Harris' Law", Internet Asperger's Syndrome, which "affects people when their communication moves to digital", causing them to "[stop] seeing the humanity in other people", and to behave in other ways that (in his view) parallel the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome.

The term Internet Asperger's Syndrome was recently picked up by Jonathan Kimak in a humorous piece for Cracked  ("6 New Personality Disorders Caused by the Internet", 6/30/2009). Kimak writes (inaccurately) that Asperger's Syndrome is a

… rarely diagnosed but often claimed disorder is a mild form of Autism that comes with what seems to be a biological inability to show empathy for other human beings, as well as (and maybe stemming from) an inability to recognize nonverbal cues. They continually do weird, upsetting things because they don't know it's upsetting you. That part of their brain is broken.

People cringe when they hear this term because they know that a large number of the teenagers claiming Asperger's are, in fact, merely dicks.

He agrees with Calacanis's diagnosis:

Calacanis figured out that people who do all of their communicating online wind up mimicking Asperger's behaviors because they are imposing the same disadvantages on themselves. In both cases, when the ability to see nonverbal responses and facial expressions goes away, so does empathy. Soon the thing you're communicating with isn't a person, they're just a bunch of words on a screen. A bunch of words that the little bastard didn't even bother to spellcheck.

Thus Kimak ends up connecting Asperger's Syndrome with various forms of internet-mediated mob cruelty — his characteristic examples are things like "A kid commits suicide on webcam while the trolls cheer him on … Normal kids, … but get them in a chat room and suddenly it reads like the transcript to a Charles Manson parole hearing"

Ironically, it takes a certain lack of empathy to see Charles Manson's sociopathic crimes as having any similarity at all with the social awkwardness and focused, "systematizing" interests of Asperger's people. And spontaneous adolescent mob cruelty, internet-mediated or not, strikes me as having little to do with either one.

In this case, Calacanis and Kimak make the the connection between chat-room meanness and Asperger's because of the idea that the lack of non-verbal cues leads to the depersonalization of victims. But the kind of mobbing gossip that they describe — as familiar from school cafeterias as from web forums — is way outside the spectrum of Asperger's behaviors, from everything I've seen and read. And charismatic sociopaths like Manson are especially skilled in exactly the sorts of communicative manipulation that Aspies have problems with.

The current DSM-IV-TR description of Asperger's Disorder (299.80) is:

Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

  1. marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
  2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
  4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity

Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

  1. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
  2. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
  3. stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
  4. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Apparently, Calacanis and Kimak have taken two points of association — the lack of non-verbal cues characteristic of text-mediated interactions, and the "lack of social or emotional reciprocity" that is a possible diagnostic indicator for Asperger's Syndrome — and made a terminological jump to a completely different sort of phenomenon, namely socially-reinforced mob cruelty in chat rooms and similar web forums. (With a nod to yet another phenomenon, namely Charles-Manson-like sociopathic charisma.)  This is quite like the chain of associations at work in various folk interpretations of "passive voice".

A different chain of autism-associations emerges in Gary Stix, "The Science of Economic Bubbles and Busts", Scientific American, 6/22/2009.

But before getting to the autism part, let me take advantage of the digression-tolerant blog format to point out a lovely example of Explanatory Neurophilia from the same article:

Behavioral economists have identified a number of biases, some with direct relevance to bubble economics. . In confirmation bias, people overweight information that confirms their viewpoint. Witness the massive run-up in housing prices as people assumed that rising home prices would be a sure bet. The herding behavior that resulted caused massive numbers of people to share this belief. Availability bias, which can prompt decisions based on the most recent information, is one reason that some newspaper editors shunned using the word “crash” in the fall of 2008 in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a flat panic. Hindsight bias, the feeling that something was known all along, can be witnessed postcrash: investors, homeowners and economists acknowledged that the signs of a bubble were obvious, despite having actively contributed to the rise in home prices.

Neuroeconomics, a close relation of behavioral economics, trains a functional magnetic resonance imaging device or another form of brain imaging on the question of whether these idiosyncratic biases are figments of an academician’s imagination or actually operate in the human mind.

Think about that for a minute. Decades of careful experimentation have demonstrated the existence of these biases, and explored their nature in elaborate quantitative detail, resulting in thousands of publications and a Nobel Prize. But all this might just be a figment of some academician's imagination — until we see the fMRI pictures to be found in Bernd Weber et al., "The medial prefrontal cortex exhibits money illusion", PNAS 106(13): 5025-5028, 2009, which show that

… areas of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which have been previously associated with the processing of anticipatory and experienced rewards, and the valuation of goods, exhibited money illusion. We also found that the amount of money illusion exhibited by the vmPFC was correlated with the amount of money illusion exhibited in the evaluation of economic transactions.

(The "money illusion" is the tendency of people to evaluate sums of money in terms of their nominal or face value instead of in terms of their purchasing power.)

I could digress further, to explain why the fMRI evidence is actually weaker, so far, than the evidence from experiments using behavioral dependent variables other than blood oxygenation level in various brain regions — and likely to remain that way for some time — but that's a topic for another post.

For now, on to what Mr. Stix has to say about the relationship of autism to financial bubbles:

One group that does not value perceived losses differently than gains are individuals with autism, a disorder characterized by problems with social interaction. When tested, autistics often demonstrate strict logic when balancing gains and losses, but this seeming rationality may itself denote abnormal behavior. “Adhering to logical, rational principles of ideal economic choice may be biologically unnatural,” says Colin F. Camerer, a professor of behavioral economics at Caltech.

The suggestion here is that the rational-choice dynamics of neo-classical economics is somehow "autistic".

This idea may be connected to the rebellion in 2000 of a group of French economics students, who wrote an open letter to their professors and administrators to complain about the domination of the neoclassical model in their curriculum, explaining that "Nous ne voulons plus faire semblant d’étudier cette science autiste qu’on essaie de nous imposer" ("We no longer want to pretend to study this autistic science that is being forced on us").

They named their website autisme-economie.org, and a page on their website explains their choice of terminology as follows:

Nous avons utilisé ce terme d’ « autisme » parce qu’il nous semblait bien résumer ce que nous ressentions, notamment la fermeture totale de la discipline au monde extérieur. Or cette fermeture à l’extérieur est communément associée à l’autisme, même si, comme beaucoup d’autres personnes, nous connaissons très mal cette maladie. Selon le Petit Robert, l’autisme désigne une « attitude de détachement de la réalité extérieure accompagnée d’une vie intérieure intense ». Pour le Larousse, c’est une « perturbation affective caractérisée par un repliement du sujet sur lui-même avec perte plus ou moins importante des contacts avec le monde extérieur ». Ce seul mot parvient donc, selon nous, à caractériser le comportement du courant dominant (académiquement) en économie. Celui-ci se caractérise en effet par sa coupure au monde extérieur, d’ailleurs couplée à une « vie intérieure intense », c’est-à-dire la production à jets continus de petits modèles tous plus débiles les uns que les autres.

We have used the term "autism" because it seem to us to summarize what we were objecting to, namely the complete closure of the discipline to the outside world. Now, this closure to the outside is commonly associated with autism, although we, like many others, know very little about this illness. According to the Petit Robert dictionary, autism refers to an "attitude of detachment from exterior reality accompanied by an intense inner life". For the Larousse, it's an "affective disorder characterized by withdrawal of the subject into himself, along with a significant loss of contact with the outside world". This single word then, we feel, manages to describe the behavior of the dominant (academic) trend in economics. This is characterized in fact by its cutting of connections to the outside world, at the same time coupled with an "intense inner life", that is, the production of a continuous stream of little models, each more retarded than the last.

An American relative of this movement is called "Post-Autistic Economics", with a website and a journal called the "real world economics review (Formerly the post-autistics economics review)". (See Edward Fullbrook "The Post-Autistic Economics Movement: A Brief History".) In the French rebellion and its American echo, the idea seems to be that neoclassical economics is "autistic" because it is isolated from society and "[preoccupied] with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus". This is arguably insulting both to neoclassical economics and to autism, but it's plausible as a metaphorical application of the DSM-IV type of definition.

Colin Camerer's ideas about the relations between autism and rational-choice theory, in contrast, seem to include the idea that they both apply logic inappropriately in attempting to predict human behavior. (For a hilarious account of game theory mis-applied to normal human interactions — without any mention of the autism spectrum — see Dan Zettwoch's Deadlock.) This perspective is expressed at somewhat greater length in Camerer et al., "Neuroeconomics: How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics", Journal of Economic Literature XLII: 9-64, 2005. Here's how the authors discusses irrationality in the Ultimatum Game:

When players do follow the dictates of game theory, the result can be a low payoff and confusion. Consider this quote from an upset subject, an Israeli college student, whose low offer in a $10.00 ultimatum game was rejected (from Shmuel Zamir 2000):

I did not earn any money because all the other players are stupid! How can you reject a positive amount of money and prefer to get zero? They just did not understand the game! You should have stopped the experiment and explained it to them . . .

Ironically, while the subject’s reasoning matches exactly how conventional game theory approaches the game, it also sounds autistic, because this subject is surprised and perplexed by how normal people behave.

Camerer et al. discuss "Elizabeth Hill and David Sally’s (2003) extensive comparison of normal and autistic children and adults playing ultimatum games". But the Hill and Sally experiments don't support a view that the "rationality" of conventional game theory is "autistic", either in the Ultimatum Game or elsewhere.

The citation by Camerer et al. is to a 2003 UCL working paper, Elisabeth Hill and David Sally, "Dilemmas and bargains: Autism, theory-of-mind, cooperation and fairness". The research was continued, and the final published version was David Sally and Elisabeth Hill, "The development of interpersonal strategy: Autism, theory-of-mind, cooperation and fairness", Journal of Economic Psychology, 27(1) 73-97, 2006):

Mentalising is assumed to be involved in decision-making that is necessary to social interaction. We investigated the relationship between mentalising and three types of strategic games – Prisoners’ Dilemma, Dictator and Ultimatum – in children with and without autistic spectrum disorders. Overall, the results revealed less dramatic differences than expected among the normally developing age groups and the children with autism, suggesting that in these laboratory tasks, mentalising skills are not always necessary. There were, nonetheless, some important findings. Young children were more cautious about initiating cooperation than their older peers and, in bargaining situations, they were less generous in their opening unilateral grants and over-solicitous of an empowered receiver. Participants with autism did have a harder time shifting strategy between versions of the Prisoners’ Dilemma, and they were much more likely to accept low initial offers in the Ultimatum game and to refuse fair proposals. In addition, participants’ measured mentalising abilities explain intentional and strategic behaviour within the prisoners’ dilemma and the avoidance of unsuccessful ultimatum proposals.

The differences between ASD children and neurotypical controls were significant, but not explainable in terms of a difference in rationality (nor do Hill and Sally attempt any such explanation). For example, the distribution of offers in the Ultimatum Game looked like this:

The ASD kids were more likely to offer 0, 6, and 7 units than their non-ASD peers — but none of those choices are dictated by rational-choice game theory. And similarly for the acceptances:

In both cases, the explanation that Hill and Sally offers is not that the ASD children were more rational than the others, but rather than they were less likely to be able to model the mental state of others. The main evidence is the distribution of Ultimatum Game behaviors as a function not of ASD diagnosis, but of score on a test of "mentalising" ability:

In this case, the conclusions of game-theoretic "rationality" do overlap in part with the results of failure to model the likely reactions of others — but this is not because the poor mentalizers are more rational. In some respects, the poor mentalizers were even further from the "rational" standard than the good mentalizers were. I'd be willing to bet, in fact, that low scores on the "second-order false belief test" would usually correlate, especially developmentally, with low scores on test of abstract logical reasoning.

So along with the extended or figurative use of Asperger's Syndrome to mean something like "rude and cruel", we seem to be seeing an extended sense of autistic to mean "excessively rational". This is all part of the normal — and irrational — process of semantic drift. Unfortunately, like the similar drift in meaning of spastic, it's rude and cruel to the individuals in the set originally referenced.

[Some earlier Language Log posts on  ASD and its intersection with popular culture: here, here, here, here.]

[It's also worth noting that the word autism as a technical term has also undergone a century of semantic drift, and that the current phrase "autism spectrum" itself may refer to a collection of things that will turn out to have nothing more in common than a slightly more systematic application, by psychologists and psychiatrists, of a somewhat better-informed family-resemblance process… ]


  1. Ginger Yellow said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 9:58 am

    Funnily enough, the Guardian recently had a profile of one Asperger's sufferer (if that's the right term) struggle with the British education system, in which the kid said that he preferred interacting with people via Facebook.

    "But when Jan shows me Alex's Facebook page, I'm amazed; on screen is someone almost unrecognisable – witty, acute, confident. "I like it on Facebook," Alex says simply. "It's removed, it's detached. It's just me talking to one other person at a time, so I'm OK."

  2. Kyle said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    I think that this is a straight-up example of memetic drift. Jokes about autism and (especially) Asperger's have been around on internet message boards for years, usually intended to ridicule the relentlessly obsessive behavior of certain segments of the Internet populace–Wikipedia editors are a common target. The joke has largely switched over to being about Asperger's Syndrome, in reference to the number of Internet personalities who try to explain away their social awkwardness or lack of personal charisma by self-diagnosing Asperger's. Ironically, in light of the above post, the insult actually began as a joke about self-diagnosers (deliberately) misinterpreting the symptoms of Asperger's in order to apply it to themselves.

    It sounds to me like Calcanis, who seems like he'd be pretty savvy on Internet culture, is just misapplying a joke about obsessiveness on the Internet as a joke about callousness on the Internet.

  3. Uly said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 11:20 am

    The term empathy is the bane of… something.

    It's commonly asserted that autistics lack empathy, but recent studies show what adult autistics and aspies have been saying for years – we certainly *do* have empathy, we *just don't show it normally*.

    But the term empathy seems to mean two different things – one thinking like other people and acting in the way they expect to show you care, and one simply caring about other people.

  4. Alan Gunn said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    I do some work with children who have become entangled in the legal system, some of whom have been diagnosed as having Asperger's. It seems to mean "smart kid who has difficulties with life." I'm really glad they didn't have that diagnosis when I was a kid. It would probably have fit at least half my college classmates (scientists and engineers all) and I, personally, would surely have been put in some sort of program. In this case, the "internet Asperger's," loony though it may be, doesn't seem all that much more ridiculous than the real thing (at least in the latter's role as diagnosis du jour).

    [(myl) If you look at this graph and this one, your guess of half the college population being within the diagnostic penumbra doesn't look too far out. (See here for context and sources.) In fairness, the "Autism Spectrum Quotient" incorporates other things as well, and so only 40% of men and 21% of women in a randomly-selected control group scored at intermediate or high levels of AQ. The average AQ for students in the sciences was somewhat higher.

    To the extent that the diagnosis is based on subjective application of the DSM-IV-TR criteria (see above), any unhappy kid might be said to have the required two out of the first four, and nearly any smart kid might be said to have the required one out of the last four, especially if "abnormal as to intensity or focus" just means "much more interested in X than most kids are". So especially if someone involved in the process has an independent motivation for the classification, it's easy to see how a large fraction of the population might get the label.

    That's not to say that the individual differences involved are irrelevant or faked or not worth thinking about. ]

  5. Emily said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    People cringe when they hear this term because they know that a large number of the teenagers claiming Asperger's are, in fact, merely dicks.

    Statements like this bother me– what exactly is the cutoff point between having a flawed personality(for instance, acting like a jerk, or at least getting carried away in certain jerkitude-conducive situations) and having a genuine personality disorder which can result in such behavior? Seems some people also confuse autism/Asperger's with sociopathy.

    Also, you-all might find the term "GIFT" useful; it stands for "Greater Internet F*ckwad Theory", and applies to situations where people get caught up in the impersonal nature of the Internet(in particular, being anonymous in front of an audience) and act a lot nastier than they would in real life.

  6. Lugubert said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

    ”The current DSM-IV-TR description of Asperger's Disorder (299.80) is:
    Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
    1. marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze,”

    I don’t get it. I find looking directly at another person’s face rather impolite and avoid doing it too openly. Never the less, I’ve sometimes been told not to stare…

    In some cultures it would be unthinkable that a young person would make eye contact with an adult. That would be regarded not only as impolite, but as an act of rude defiance.

    And then, in discussions a former acquaintance often told me "Look into my eyes!" but when I, puzzled, asked why, the psychologist couldn't/wouldn't answer.

  7. choc croc said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

    I think the main difference between Aspies (in the loose sense) and median people is that for us being social is something that consumes energy. I do like social interaction, I need it like everybody, but I want to limit it because it means more stress and distraction for me than for other people. It's true that the internet offers techniques to limit interaction that don't work or would be considered rude in RL. I don't know if it has much to do with autism. While I can empathize with autists, I myself hardly ever feel locked in. It's more like the opposite: I feel hammered by people who need to chat without having anything to say and who ask questions without wanting to know, and I can play along with it but it wears me out.

    Equating Asperger's (in any sense) or even autism with sociopaths or bullies couldn't be farther from the truth. I can only explain that misunderstanding with a severe lack of empathy. No, seriously, the role-playing and manipulating skills and charisma needed, the necessary immersion in the victims' feelings (that's what gives them thrills, what makes them do it) and the intense social interaction involved just don't go together well with Asperger's. Also note that bullying is a group phenomenon, sometimes a mass phenomenon, and the other motivation for being a bully (apart from experiencing the victims' pain) is to improve one's own social standing.

  8. Mark F said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

    I think I've said before that psychological terminology seems to be more subject to this kind of semantic drift than just about any other technical area, presumably because people are interested in talking about people.

    Another example is "schizophrenic" used metaphorically as if it literally meant "having a split personality."

  9. Speculator 5000 said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

    A lot of commenters on the Cracked article took exception to that part of the article, too, and weren't buying the Aspergher's connection. It was definitely a half-baked and somewhat irresponsible thing to write.

    Anyway, the Internet-jerk behavior is simple to explain. When people do not feel responsible for a situation, they lose their empathy. Being part of a group is just one way to feel that you are not responsible (because "someone else will handle this") — that much I know I have seen evidence for in studies. But it is probably safe to say that communicating over the Internet — even with a webcam — also triggers that "not my problem" part of the brain, even more strongly, since you are completely physically removed from someone and thus can make no difference in what you see happening. Thus you have people carelessly insulting others and webcam chatrooms laughing at someone while they kill themselves (that's the double-whammy: a group, in cyberspace).

  10. codeman38 said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

    What makes the whole "Internet Asperger's syndrome" thing particularly insulting is that in the offline world, Aspies are more often the victims of bullying than they are the perpetrators. So it's a failed metaphor on several counts.

  11. Daniel said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

    There's also the problem with people getting called out for acting like dicks in forums and the like claiming that you can't call them dicks because they have Asperger's, which has created a bit of a problem.

  12. Nathan Myers said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

    I have read 'spergies complaints about the supposedly definitive experiments that deprive those on the autism spectrum of "theory of mind", explaining that it is more likely the subjects misunderstood the instructions or the framing of the experiment. (See Kamran Nazeer, "Send in the Idiots".) Researchers' inability to accommodate, or even to conceive of, unusual language development is historically common. Police officers' similarly common incapacity has often been tragic, perhaps moreso today, in the U.S., with the routine administration of torture by electric shock for failure to obey instructions instantly.

  13. dr pepper said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

    Personally i've always thought of the internet effect the other way around: that it is an equalizer for people who have trouble with communicating in person.

  14. jk said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    M.F.'s comment brings to mind how Bateman used schizophrenia as a metaphor to explain the double-bind, but then turned the double-bind to offer an analysis of mental disorders related to schizophrenia. There might be a similar strategy available here, where various features/"symptoms" of Aspergers (dick-like behaviors) can be addressed on their own, and then used to analyze Aspergers.

  15. anon said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 1:11 am

    The Asperger's connection appears to have come from what is an odd recurring facet of that bastion of all things tasteless on the internet, 4chan. For a time in the middle part of this decade, it was something of a vogue to self-diagnose oneself with Asperger's Syndrome on sites like Livejournal and the like, which members of 4chan — and related trolling communities — disliked. Asperger's quickly became a punchline; see sites like Encyclopedia Dramatica for what the word has come to mean. As with many things on the internet, this meaning has sort of bled out onto the wider internet slowly, so that an otherwise savvy New Media type such as Jason C. could use it without knowing the 4chan twist that's been placed on it.

    [(myl) Ironically, one of the two pictures used in Kimak's article to illustrate "Internet Asperger's Syndrome" shows 4chan participants in Guy Fawkes' masks, probably at a Project Chanology demonstration. ]

  16. “Internet Asperger’s Syndrome” and “Austistic economics” « Open Economics said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 1:22 am

    […] 7, 2009 by nick Via Mark Thoma, the blog Language Log has an interesting post connecting an understanding of the word "autistic" as meaning "excessively […]

  17. Mr. Wolff said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 5:25 am

    I'd have to agree with what many of the other aspies have said above. For those of us who experience difficulty with normal social interaction, the internet is a powerful tool that enables us to communicate on our own terms. I find that a huge part of my personal difficulties stem from a type of language lagging, where it takes me much more time than it probably should to figure out the underlying nuances of what someone is saying to me. Online interactions not only eliminate the physical portion of conversational subtlety (or wind up replacing them with something far more blatant, like emoticons), but also give me the needed time to think and figure out the "Oh! That's what she meant when she said she was ____!" before having to respond.

    That said, I don't find the language drift as offensive as I do ignorant. The rebellious French economics students seem to express it best: "we, like many others, know very little about this illness." There has been a momentous failure in the education of the general populace about what it means to be non-neurotypical, and the predictable result is that people try to fill the gap in their understanding without any real reference points. This is what leads to characterization of autistics as either non-functional invalids or hyper-functional robots. This is how I explain my diagnosis to confused friends: "I am not better than you, I am not worse than you, my brain just makes a different set of stops getting between point A and point B"

  18. Ellen said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    From the quotes here, I think that Kimak has some good insight into internet dynamics, but great ignorance about Asperger's syndrome. Yeah, sometimes the lack of non-verbals gets in the way of getting along on the internet. Leads to misunderstandings; people make wrong assumptions they wouldn't make if they had the non-verbals. Too bad he doesn't intelligently discuss that point.

  19. bianca steele said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 11:00 am

    While respecting what the Asperger's sufferers on this thread have to say, I think I'd have my doubts about any "normal" person who did not at least occasionally have difficulty gleaning unspoken cues from online writing.

    I do think there is a kind of "induced social Asperger's" that in part arises when people who have difficulty writing or with language generally, or who attempt to impose artificial rules on their writing in order to protect themselves, start writing extensive correspondence, whether online or not. It often sounds unintentionally funny even to themselves.

    I do remember a couple of boys when I was growing up who probably fit the diagnosis, including one with two and probably three of the second set of symptoms. I think it went beyond what people are describing. There may have been a continuum, but my evidence is anecdotal, and thinking about it, the smart boys who had the fewest problems were very tall, and the ones who had the most were very short.

  20. Janet Hammond said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 11:55 am

    Asperger’s Syndrome: Possibly less empathetic, but still compassionate
    [Re: So along with the extended or figurative use of Asperger's Syndrome to mean something like "rude and cruel", we seem to be seeing an extended sense of autistic to mean "excessively rational".]
    A group of people with asperger’s syndrome would be predicted to display less developed ToM (theory of mind) than a group of typically developing peers. ToM is the theoretical scaffolding that supports the experience empathy*. However, people with asperger’s syndrome are not devoid of ToM, and some aspies may have well developed ToM – we are a diverse lot. Compassion** is not correlated with ToM, and occurs widely amoung asperger’s syndrome.
    I do question both the empathy and compassion of Mark Liberman, Jason Calacanis, and others who condone the terms, “"Internet Asperger's Syndrome" and "Autistic Economics". The behaviors described in this article are those that have been used against us on the playground and frequently continue in our work places. It is akin to using disgusting terms such as, “that’s white of you’” “nigger-rig.” And to jew [somebody].” It is insulting and inappropriate.
    In composing this article, the author and his supporters demonstrated neither deep sympathy for people with asperger’s syndrome nor did they vicariously experience our thoughts, feelings, or attitudes.

    *Empathy – “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering (Dictionary.com).”
    **Compassion – “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another (Dictionary.com).”

  21. Estel said,

    July 7, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    Janet Hammond: I'm surprised that you see Mark Liberman as endorsing the terms he discusses. I saw his article as critiquing the basis for the terms "Internet Asperger's" and "Autistic Economics", and finding them based on a bad analogy and poor comprehension of Asperger's/Autism, not as condoning the terms. Though it is always possible that I am the one misreading.

    [(myl) The view that Calacanis, Kimak, Stix, and Camerer exhibited "a bad analogy and poor comprehension of Asperger's/Autism" was certainly what I meant to convey. Sorry if it was less clear than it should have been. ]

  22. Ellen said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:00 am

    I agree with you, Estel.

  23. Lane said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    Maybe Mark, as a linguist, is simply doing what he does with other subject like the passive voice and "passive voice". He's in a bind of knowing what "passive voice" originally meant, and yet accepting, as a linguist, that when meaning shifts because (a lot of) people start using a word in a new way, it's pretty damned hard to stop it. All the railing in the world — "You can't use it that way; X *really* means X, not your new use of Y" — doesn't usually do any good. Alas, in this case.

    My son has been diagnosed with (yes, borderline, yes, high-functioning, yada yada) Asperger's; I'd hate for the world to come to mean "nasty, unfeeling bully", because he's nothing of the sort. If it does come to mean that, god Forbid, we'll just have to find a new term.

  24. Katherine said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    Emily said: "Statements like this bother me– what exactly is the cutoff point between having a flawed personality(for instance, acting like a jerk, or at least getting carried away in certain jerkitude-conducive situations) and having a genuine personality disorder which can result in such behavior? Seems some people also confuse autism/Asperger's with sociopathy."

    I think the statement you quoted (People cringe when they hear this term because they know that a large number of the teenagers claiming Asperger's are, in fact, merely dicks.) was referring to people who use the claim that they have Asperger's as an excuse to be jerks on the internet (there are a lot of them). Seeing as a number of people on here who genuinely have Asperger's or Autism have mentioned that they find it easier to communicate on the internet, I would assume that all the people referred to in the quote do not, in fact, have Asperger's are are just using it to try and get away with being internet jerks. So it's these people that are causing this misunderstanding.

    [(myl) Can you offer some evidence for the claim that "there are a lot of" "people who use the claim that they have Asperger's as an excuse to be jerks on the internet"?

    In 30 years of reading bulletin boards, usenet newsgroups, web forums, and blogs, I've certainly seen thousands of people being jerks on the internet. Maybe tens of thousands. But I can't recall ever having seen anyone who tried to used a diagnosis of Asperger's as an excuse for their bad behavior. Perhaps I've just been reading the wrong places. Can you point me to some specific examples, and some places where a "lot" more can be found? ]

  25. Emily said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

    I do occasionally see people on the Internet say things to the effect of "I haven't been diagnosed, but Asperger's syndrome sure sounds like me"(after being linked to the Wikipedia article), though not as an excuse for being a jerk. If anything, it's an excuse for being "a little weird" or awkward, and the real jerks are either unapologetic or say something like "I was just having a bad day". However, this is just my own probably-biased sampling, from what was probably a mostly teenage crowd.

  26. alex dante said,

    July 13, 2009 @ 3:04 am

    The site where I've most seen people claim undiagnosed Asperger's would have to be slashdot, which mostly seemed fueled by articles making throwaway claims about autism and geekiness being linked. In many ways it's similar (IMO) to the recurring "I'm so geek-hard I've been coding since I was a zygote" threads (of which slashdot has also had many), in that it's not so much about excusing rampant assholism as it is about asserting an unobtainable identity.

    [(myl) I've read quite a bit of Slashdot over the years, and again, I can't recall ever seeing even a single example of the supposedly common category of "people who use the claim that they have Asperger's as an excuse to be jerks on the internet". And I read the first three or four pages of comments on the post that you link to, without finding anyone who excuses their bad manners by claiming Asperger's.

    I suppose that somewhere, sometime, some one has done this. But I can't remember ever having seen it; I can't find an example of it by any of the obvious searching or sampling techniques; and none of the people claiming such things seem ever to have offered even a single example. So it must be extremely rare, if it ever occurs; and people who claim that it's common are, at a minimum, describing their prejudices rather than their experiences. ]

  27. kat said,

    July 13, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

    People claiming Asperger's doesn't happen as much as it used to because of the internet backlash against such people. I'm *guessing* it hit a high something like four or five years ago, but I wouldn't be surprised if it really doesn't happen as much as some people claim.

    The place where I've seen it the most is the SomethingAwful forums. I believe now if you try to self-diagnose yourself with Asperger's on there it is grounds for a ban. Check the Ask/Tell section or General Bullshit; there's usually SOMEWHERE where someone is asking whether or not they have Asperger's, or there are people who have been diagnosed talking about their experiences and someone comes in thinking they have it. That might not happen anymore, though; I haven't been there in a year or two.

    I've never outright seen it being used as an excuse for dickish behavior. Where I have seen it used, like Alex and Emily, is among a certain set of geeks/nerds/dorks who have difficulty interacting socially who discover the existence of Asperger's syndrome and assume that they have it, or at least muse about the possibility. Asperger's is commonly associated with "nerdy" people anyway and so it holds a certain romance for those who are having social difficulties and who also have nerdy hobbies [peer relationship issues and preoccupation with objects, right????] and who want to explain their problems away.

    I would assume it got associated with dickish behavior in that nerds with social difficulties can come off as quite inconsiderate. There's also something dickish about trying to diagnose yourself with a disorder in order to possibly excuse yourself from behavior that can be inconsiderate.

    I would love to point you to somewhere where someone's claiming Asperger's right now, but as I said, I haven't been to SomethingAwful in a while, and I'm not sure it still happens with any frequency, or even if it ever did. I do know though that a [heavily invested in internet nerd culture] friend of mine thought he had Asperger's for a while– he did have diagnosable problems, though, just bipolar/schizoid ones and not ones on the autism spectrum. I also had a friend [also heavily invested in internet nerd culture] suggest that *I* had Asperger's when I told him some of the personal difficulties that I was having. That's all I can provide, unfortunately.

  28. kat said,

    July 13, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

    Here's some people for you:


    Now, some of these people may actually have undiagnosed Asperger's or some other autistic-spectrum disorder. I don't know and to be fair, I can't diagnose anyone over the internet any better than any of these people can. But these sorts of questions are very similar to the ones I've seen asked before. Some of the people who ask questions are genuinely concerned about themselves and go get evaluated. I'm assuming some of those find out that they actually have it. Others, though, graduate into simply asserting that they have the disorder, whether they do or not.

    I got these all from a google search of "I think I have Asperger's".

  29. anonimous said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:24 am

    I find this artical very disjointed. How can you compare real behavyor to behavyor that is non physical and there is no one standing in front of you to empathise with.it is a detached relationship.Humans like other animals were created to
    interact with another animal in front. Not talk to a virtal wall.
    it is very easy to dehumanise somone who you cant see.Alot of stuff that goes on on the internet is flippant and people who spent too mush time slagging eachother off have too much time on thier hands.they probley dont even look back on the venomus comments they write becuase they are physically and emotionly detached from the environment and the person they argued with . Aspies and auties are just not that calculating.i went to a youth group with what must be now 50 strong full of officaly diagnosed young people with autsim/ aspergers. Non of us go out of thier way to cause such distress. Reason being we know if we carry out such actions we we just end up even more alienated. The actions i am reading sound like that of a sociopath or just board self rightous morons with attitude problems. There are lots of them around!!

  30. So Yeah said,

    December 30, 2009 @ 12:24 am

    So I found this webpage by googling "The internet causes Aspergers" because i think it's pretty obvious that the internet causes aspergers symptoms.

    even people who are unfamiliar with the nerdy or geeky side of the net develop these symptoms. going out on a limb, i think most of the comments here came from older people who did not grow up on broadband internet? because i think the younger and longer you expose yourself to the internet the more pronounced the aspergers symptoms. i believe this happens in people all the time, even people completely unaware of the existence of a syndrome called aspergers.

  31. jmkt said,

    May 7, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    When people grow up interacting more with computers and video games than with other people, is it not obvious that they will be socially awkward in later life? When "aspies" explain their supposed symptoms, they strike me as no different than the next person living in modern society. The only difference is that they had the disposition to medicalize their alienation while the next person didn't.

  32. Jenny Nielsen said,

    October 13, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    That writer has no idea what Aspergers is at all.

    The entire (and Wikipedia standard) idea that aspergers removes empathy is hideous anyway — Aspies have empathy, they just often express it "awkwardly" / differently.

    What the author should have called his coined disease is "internet sociopathy."

  33. gina rex said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    The content of the article and many of the comments merely demonstrate why intelligent, caring Aspies avoid neurotypicals who are narcissistic and infantile. It's pointless to try to communicate with people who are so limited in their intellectual curiosity and abilities that they have nothing of interest to say. And yes, it is exhausting to deal with hyper social dimwits.

  34. gina rex said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 12:29 pm

    If anyone would like to know what Asperger people think about being Asperger, go to http://www.aspiemanifesto.blogspot.com

    Don't pretend you know about Asperger's ASK AN ASPIE.

  35. gina rex said,

    September 25, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

    Stopped back to this site after 6 months of writing three blogs on Aspergers – mainly deconstructing the religion of psychology, which has it's unscientific nose in every aspect of culture these days. How is it that other Aspergers know what I'm talking about, but the "caring industry" doesn't? They don't care; they have a profitable industry going – why disrupt it with facts? Kids on the internet get some of their bad behavior and jargon FROM PSYCHOLOGISTS, who are careless, rude and arrogant. They seem to think that dumb Aspergers won't notice the insults and untruths they splatter all over the internet. Psychologists know empathy? What a joke!

RSS feed for comments on this post