Mediators of the Link Between Autistic Traits and Relationship
Satisfaction in a Non-Clinical Sample
Monique M. H. Pollmann•Catrin Finkenauer•
Published online: 3 November 2009
? The Author(s) 2009. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
skills and may therefore experience lower relationship
satisfaction. This study investigated possible mechanisms
to explain whether and how autistic traits, measured with
the AQ, influence relationship satisfaction in a non-clinical
sample of 195 married couples. More autistic traits were
associated with lower relationship satisfaction for husbands
but not for wives. Multiple mediation analyses revealed
that husbands’ responsiveness towards their wives, trust,
and intimacy mediated this link between autistic traits and
relationship satisfaction. These findings suggest that
autistic traits may hamper men’s relationship satisfaction
because they impede relationship-specific feelings and
behavior. There was no partner-effect of autistic traits,
indicating that more autistic traits do not necessarily
influence thepartner’s perceptions
People with ASD have deficits in their social
Relationship well-being ? Multiple mediation
Autism ? AQ ? Relationship satisfaction ?
People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have deficits
in their social and communicative skills and face difficul-
ties in their social relationships. Despite these problems,
the majority of people with ASD do not want to be socially
excluded (Bauminger et al. 2003; Rutgers et al. 2004) and
show similar desires for intimate relationships as typically
developing individuals (Hellemans et al. 2007; Henault
2005; Orsmond et al. 2004). Establishing and maintaining
successful intimate relationships are essential elements of a
happy and healthy life (Baumeister and Leary 1995).
Although we cannot be sure whether individuals with and
without ASD depend on relationships to the same extent
and in the same way (Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright 2003;
Kelly et al. 2008), research shows that social support
greatly enhances the quality of life of people with ASD
(Renty and Roeyers 2006, 2007; Weidle et al. 2006; Hillier
et al. 2007), and that family conflict increases anxiety and
depression in children with ASD (Kelly et al. 2008). This
research highlights the importance of well-functioning
relationships for individuals with ASD. It is not clear,
however, to what extent they are able to maintain satisfying
intimate relationships and how their social difficulties
affect their satisfaction with close relationships. It is
equally unclear whether autistic traits affect relationship
satisfaction in non-clinical samples. The present paper tries
to answer the latter question by examining the link between
autistic traits and relationship satisfaction in a non-clinical
sample and investigating possible mediators of this link.
We acknowledge that the broader autism phenotype,
measured in a non-clinical sample, is not interchangeable
with a clinical diagnosis of ASD. However, studying the
severity of autistic traits in the current large sample of
couples will be informative on the links between the
M. M. H. Pollmann ? C. Finkenauer
Department of Social Psychology, VU University Amsterdam,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Department of Developmental Psychology, VU University
Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
M. M. H. Pollmann (&)
Department of Social Psychology, Faculteit Sociale
Wetenschappen, Tilburg University, PO Box 90153,
5000 Tilburg, The Netherlands
J Autism Dev Disord (2010) 40:470–478
broader autistic phenotype and relationship satisfaction.
Moreover, in clinical samples, autism is increasingly con-
ceived of as a continuum. Taking account of the severity of
the disorder has proven valuable for research (Gotham
et al. 2009), and the fifth version of the DSM is even likely
to adopt a dimensional approach to autism (Lord 2009).
Furthermore, several studies by independent research
groups indicate that characteristics of the autism phenotype
can be measured reliably using quantitative scales (Baron-
Cohen et al. 2001; Constantino et al. 2003) and that autistic
traits may follow a continuous distribution in the general
population (Constantino and Todd 2003; Hoekstra et al.
Are Autistic Traits Associated with Relationship
Most research on social relationships of people with a
clinical diagnosis of ASD has focused on children’s rela-
tionships with peers (Bauminger et al. 2003; Orsmond et al.
2004). Only recently researchers started examining autistic
traits in romantic relationships in adult samples, both
clinical and non-clinical. For example, adults with ASD
reported lower romantic functioning—operationalized as
self-reported desire, knowledge, and experience with inti-
mate relationships—than non-autistic controls (Stokes
et al. 2007). Moreover, the severity of husbands’ autistic
disorder is negatively correlated with relationship satis-
faction as reported by the wife, underlining the potential
relational impact of ASD (Renty and Roeyers 2007).
In non-clinical samples, individuals with many autistic
traits were as likely to be in a romantic relationship as
individuals with fewer autistic traits. However, individuals
with many autistic traits reported relatively more general
loneliness than those with fewer autistic traits (Jobe and
Williams White 2007). This finding is a first indication
that, compared to relationships of people with few autistic
traits, relationships of people with many autistic traits—
even in a non clinical sample—may not be as satisfying.
Considering the centrality of satisfying relationships for
psychosocial well-being (e.g. Baumeister and Leary 1995),
investigating how autistic traits may contribute to rela-
tionship satisfaction, and possibly lead to a decrease in
relationship satisfaction, is particularly important.
How Do Autistic Traits Affect Relationship
Researchers on close relationships recognize that relation-
ship quality varies as a function of both people’s individual
dispositions and their relationship-specific behavior and
feelings (e.g. Holmes and Rempel 1989). First, findings
from dispositional (person-centered) research showed that
relationship satisfaction corresponds with higher self-
esteem and a secure attachment style (Bowlby 1982;
Hendrick et al. 1988; Jones and Cunningham 1996). ASD
has been related to both lower ratings of global self-worth
(Capps et al. 1995) and a less secure attachment style
(Rutgers et al. 2004).
Second, relationship-centered studies found that rela-
tionship satisfaction is linked to relationship-specific
behavior. Specifically, responsiveness towards the part-
ner’s needs, including understanding, validating, and car-
ing for the partner (e.g. Reis 2007; Reis and Shaver 1988),
and the disclosure of personal information to the partner,
including sharing feelings and thoughts (Dindia and
Timmerman 2003), are strong predictors of relationship
satisfaction. ASD is defined by a lack of spontaneous
sharing of pleasure, interests, or achievements with other
people (American Psychiatric Association 1994), poor
perception of others’ emotions and internal states (Begeer
et al. 2008), and a limited use of communication for social
purposes such as seeking comfort (Rubin and Lennon
Third, research on relationship-specific feelings suggests
that relationship satisfaction develops as feelings of inti-
macy and trust between partners increase. Not surprisingly,
intimacy and trust are considered to be the most important
ingredients for happy, well-functioning romantic relation-
ships (e.g. Reis and Shaver 1988; Simpson 2007). Children
with autism tend to rate their friendships as lower on the
dimension of security-intimacy and trust than typically
developing children (Bauminger et al. 2003). This may also
be the case for intimate relationships of adults with many
autistic traits. In sum, findings on individual dispositions
and on relationship-specific behavior and feelings suggest
that people with more autistic traits should be less satisfied
with their relationship.
Because close relationships by definition involve two
partners, people’s autistic traits may also influence the
relationship satisfaction of their partner (cf. Renty and
Roeyers 2007). The present research examines both actor
(i.e. the person with autistic traits) and partner effects of
autistic traits on relationship satisfaction.
The Current Research
The present paper is the first to investigate the link between
relationship satisfaction and autistic traits in a non-clinical
sample. We hypothesized that individuals with more
autistic traits are less satisfied with their relationship
than individuals with fewer autistic traits. Importantly, we
investigated whether individual dispositions (i.e. self-
esteem, attachment style) and relationship-specific behav-
ior (i.e. responsiveness, disclosure) and feelings (i.e.
intimacy, trust) mediate the link between autistic traits and
J Autism Dev Disord (2010) 40:470–478 471
relationship satisfaction. Because we did not have a priori
hypotheses which of these mediators will be strongest, we
used a multiple mediation approach (Preacher and Hayes
2008). This approach allowed us to test different mediators
simultaneously and to directly compare the strength of
each indirect effect. We tested our hypotheses in a non-
clinical sample of 195 newlywed couples. Including both
spouses allowed us to investigate whether autistic traits
influence people’s own perception of relationship satis-
faction (i.e. actor effect) and whether autistic traits influ-
ence their partner’s perception of relationship satisfaction
(i.e. partner effect), and whether gender modulates these
The data used for this study are derived from Wave 2 of
‘‘The Search for Inter-Personal Accuracy Project’’, a lon-
gitudinal study among newlywed couples (Finkenauer
2006). This study investigates the influence of personal
dispositions, behavior in the relationship, and partner per-
ception on marital well-being in the first 3 years of
marriage. Participants received a large battery of ques-
tionnaires to fill out under supervision of a trained inter-
viewer. Only scales relevant to the present manuscript are
described below. For a more detailed description of the
study, see (Finkenauer et al. 2009).
Participants were 195 of the 199 original newlywed cou-
ples who participated in the second wave of a longitudinal
study. Wave 2 was conducted on average 10 month after
the couple got married. At the time of the second wave
husbands’ mean age was 33.05 years (SD = 4.86) and
wives’ mean age was 30.11 years (SD = 4.25). Couples
had been romantically involved for an average of
6.88 years (SD = 3.10), and had been living together for
an average of 4.62 years (SD = 2.26). Nearly all of the
couples (98.5% of the husbands and 96.4% of the wives)
Procedure and Measures
Both members of the couple separately filled out an
extensive questionnaire at home in the presence of a trained
interviewer. The questionnaire took about 90 min to
complete. Partners were instructed not to discuss the
questions or answers with each other. Each couple received
15 Euros and a book after they completed the question-
naire. Only scales that are relevant for the present inves-
tigation are described below.
Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ)
We used a Dutch, abridged version of the AQ (Baron-
Cohen et al. 2001) to measure autistic traits. The con-
struction and validation of the AQ-short is described in
detail in Hoekstra et al. (2009). Unlike the original 4-point
scale with a binary scoring system, we used a 5-point scale
(1 = not at all; 5 = very much) and average scores to
attain a higher level of differentiation among responses.
Higher scores represent more autistic traits. Internal con-
sistency of the AQ-short was good for husbands and wives
(a = .73 and .75, respectively).
We measured relationship satisfaction using the Dyadic
Adjustment Scale (DAS). This scale taps components of
couple functioning such as agreement regarding important
values (religion, decision making), satisfaction, conflict
management, and expressions of love and affection (Spa-
nier 1976; e.g. ‘‘How often do you think things are going
well between you and your husband?’’; 0 = never, 5 = all
the time). It is widely accepted as a measure of relationship
satisfaction and has been used in research on relationship
satisfaction of men with ASD (Renty and Roeyers 2007).
Summed scores indicate overall dyadic adjustment with
higher scores representing better relationship satisfaction.
Reliability was good for husbands and wives (a = .87 and
Self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg self-esteem
questionnaire (Rosenberg 1965). This scale consists of
10 items, measuring how satisfied participants are with
themselves (e.g. ‘‘On the whole, I am satisfied with
myself’’; 1 = do not agree at all, 5 = completely agree).
Higher scores indicate higher self-esteem. Reliability of the
scale was good for husbands and wives (a = .86 and
a = .84, respectively).
Attachment was measured using a shortened version of
the Experiences in Close Relationships Questionnaire
(Brennan et al. 1998). Of the 36 original items, we selected
22 items to measure insecure attachment. Participants rated
to what extent they agree with statements like: ‘‘I worry a
lot about my relationships’’ (1 = do not agree at all,
5 = completely agree). Higher scores indicate a less secure
attachment style. Reliability of the scale was good (a = .86
for husbands and a = .84 for wives).
Disclosure was measured with the relationship-specific
self-disclosure scale (Finkenauer et al. 2004) consisting of
seven items that ask whether specific topics are shared with
the partner, (e.g. ‘‘I share my most intimate feelings with
472J Autism Dev Disord (2010) 40:470–478
my partner’’; 1 = do not agree at all, 5 = completely
agree). Ratings were given on a 5-point-scale, with higher
scores representing more relationship-specific disclosure.
Reliability of the scale was good (a = .89 for husbands and
Responsiveness was measured with an 18 items scale
(e.g. Birnbaum and Reis 2006), ratings are given on a
5-point scale with higher scores representing more
responsiveness (e.g. ‘‘I am an excellent judge of my part-
ner’s character’’; 1 = do not agree at all, 5 = agree
completely). Reliability of the responsiveness scale was
good (a = .89 for husbands and a = .90 for wives).
Intimacy was measured using the intimacy subscale of
the Perceived Relationship Quality Components (Fletcher
et al. 2000). This subscale consists of 3 items, ratings are
given on 5-point scales and higher ratings indicated greater
intimacy (e.g. ‘‘How intimate is your relationship?’’;
1 = not at all, 5 = completely). Reliability of the scale
was good for husbands and wives (a = .85 and a = .83,
Partner-specific trust was measured with a scale con-
sisting of 12 items (Rempel and Holmes 1986). Ratings are
given on 5-point scales with higher scores representing
more trust (e.g. ‘‘I can count on my wife to keep the
promises she made’’; 1 = is not at all true, 5 = is com-
pletely true). Reliability of the scale was good for husbands
and wives (a = .84 and a = .82, respectively).
Table 1 provides the descriptive statistics for husbands and
wives and a comparison of their means for all variables
relevant to this investigation.
On average, both husbands and wives were very satis-
fied with their relationship, and did not differ in their level
of satisfaction. In line with earlier findings, husbands report
more autistic traits than wives (Baron-Cohen et al. 2001).
Furthermore, husbands scored higher on self-esteem than
wives, and wives scored higher on self-disclosure than
husbands, which is consistent with the existing literature
(Kling et al. 1999; Finkenauer et al. 2004). No other dif-
ferences were found between husbands and wives.
Table 2 provides the intercorrelations of the AQ-short,
relationship satisfaction, and the assessed mediators for
husbands and for wives. As can be seen, the score on the
AQ-short is significantly negatively related to relationship
satisfaction for husbands but not for wives. For both hus-
bands and wives the AQ score is significantly related to all
the possible mediators in the expected directions at a sig-
nificance level of at least p\.05. Although not corrected
for the number of tests performed, these correlations are a
first indication that autistic traits may reduce relationship
satisfaction, at least for husbands, and that the proposed
mediators may play a role in this link. Moreover, although
not directly related to our research question, it may be
noteworthy that we find positive correlations between
partners’ scores on all variables except the AQ-short scores
Are Autistic Traits Related to Relationship
To investigate whether people with more autistic traits are
less satisfied with their relationship, we used hierarchical
linear modeling because the data from two spouses of a
couple are non-independent. We included gender into the
model as possible moderator of the effect, because hus-
bands’ and wives’ AQ-short scores differed significantly,
and controlled for relationship duration. The analysis
revealed a negative relation between autistic traits and
relationship satisfaction, b = -.48, t = 2.40, p\.05, and
a significant interaction with gender, b = .19, t = 1.98,
p\.05. In order to identify the nature of this interaction
we performed separate regression analyses for husband
and wives, controlling for relationship duration. For hus-
bands, the link between autistic traits and satisfaction was
Table 1 Means, standard
deviations (in brackets), and
pairwise comparison of
husbands and wives scores on
all assessed variables
The range of the scales is given
in brackets behind the name of
* p\.05; ** p\.01;
Relationship satisfaction (0–141) 111.89 (9.84) 110.39 (10.94)
t (1,194) = 1.42
AQ-short (1–5)2.55 (0.30)2.42 (0.29)
t (1,194) = 4.46***
Self-esteem (1–5)4.17 (0.47)4.00 (0.45)
t (1,194) = 3.72***
Attachment (1–5) 1.76 (0.40) 1.78 (0.38)
t (1,189) = 0.76
Responsiveness (1–5) 4.17 (0.37)4.20 (0.37)
t (1,193) = 0.76
Disclosure (1–5) 4.18 (0.58)4.37 (0.49)
t (1,191) = 3.86***
Intimacy (1–5)4.50 (0.50) 4.51 (0.47)
t (1,193) = 0.17
Trust (1–5)4.22 (0.44)4.19 (0.45)
t (1,194) = 0.71
J Autism Dev Disord (2010) 40:470–478473
significant and negative, b = -.29, t = 4.22, p\.001,
whereas for wives, the link was non-significant, b = -.09,
t = 1.17, p[.05. Thus, husbands who report more autistic
traits are less satisfied with their relationship than husbands
who posses fewer autistic traits. Wives with more autistic
traits, however, are not less satisfied with their relationship
than wives with fewer autistic traits.
To investigate whether autistic traits of one partner
influence the relationship satisfaction of the other partner
(i.e. partner effects), we designed a hierarchical linear
model with the AQ-short score of one partner predicting
the other partner’s relationship satisfaction, again control-
ling for gender and relationship duration. We found no
main effect of AQ-short score on the partner’s relationship
satisfaction, b = -.18, t = 0.97, p[.05, nor an interac-
tion effect with gender, b = .10, t = 1.05, p[.05. Thus,
partners of both men and women with more autistic traits
do not report lower relationship satisfaction than partners
of people with fewer autistic traits.
Mediators of the Link between Autistic Traits
and Relationship satisfaction
To investigate why husbands with more autistic traits report
lower relationship satisfaction, we performed a multiple
mediator analysis that allows us to compare the strength of
the six mediators included in the present investigation
(Preacher and Hayes 2008). This bootstrapping analysis
does not rely on the assumption of a normal sampling
distribution and reduces the likelihood of Type 1 error by
minimizing the number of inferential tests (Preacher and
Hayes 2008). This analysis disentangles the total effect—
the effect of the independent variable on the dependent
variable, not considering the mediators—into the direct
effect—the effect of the independent variable on the
dependent variable, controlled for the mediators—and the
indirect effect—the effect via the mediators.
Because there was no link between AQ-short and rela-
tionship satisfaction for wives, we conducted this media-
tion analysis for husbands only. Figure 1 provides an
overview of the effects of the AQ-short and the mediators
on husbands’ relationship satisfaction.
First, a significant total effect of autistic traits on rela-
tionship satisfaction emerged,
p\.01. When dividing this total effect into the direct
effect of the autistic traits and the total indirect effects of
all mediators combined, the direct effect of the autistic
traits is no longer significant, b = -.09, t = 1.57, p[.05,
but the total indirect effect is significant, b = -.25,
t = 4.37, p\.01. Because the difference between the total
effect and the direct effect of the autistic traits is different
from zero, we can conclude that the effect of autistic traits
on relationship satisfaction is mediated by the proposed
mediators (Preacher and Hayes 2008). The total indirect
effect can be further divided into the indirect effects of
each of the mediators. The mediators that significantly
contributed to the indirect effect were responsiveness,
intimacy, and partner-specific trust (Fig. 1). More autistic
traits among men thus seem to hamper relationship-specific
behavior and feelings which, in turn, reduce their rela-
b = -.34,
t = 4.73,
In the present paper we investigated whether autistic traits
are related to relationship satisfaction and how this relation
can be characterized. We found that men with more autistic
traits report less relationship satisfaction. This effect was
not found for women. Furthermore, the partner’s autistic
traits were not related to people’s relationship satisfaction,
neither for men nor women. Importantly, we additionally
investigated the specific process by which autistic traits
may be associated with relationship satisfaction.
Table 2 Intercorrelations of the AQ-short score, relationship satisfaction, and the possible mediators
1. 2. 3.4.5. 6.7. 8.
2. Relationship satisfaction-.09
3. Self-esteem-.34** .30**
4. Attachment .25**-.57**-.42**
5. Responsiveness-.20** .45**.29**-.60**
6. Disclosure-.17* .37**.21**-.56**.53**
8. Trust-.16*.54**.32**-.68** .67** .42**.48**
Correlations above the diagonal represent correlations for husbands; correlations under the diagonal represent correlations for wives; correlations
on the diagonal (in bold) represent correlations between spouses. No corrections for the number of tests performed were made
* p\.05; ** p\.01
474 J Autism Dev Disord (2010) 40:470–478
Mediators of the Link Between Autistic Traits
and Relationship Satisfaction
The link between autistic traits and relationship satisfaction
among male participants was mediated by responsiveness
towards the partner, trust in the partner, and intimacy in the
relationship. Having more autistic traits thus appears to
reduce men’s relationship satisfaction mainly because of
relationship-specific factors. Responsiveness represents
understanding, validation and caring for the partner, which
are seen as key factors to build up intimacy and trust in the
relationship (Reis and Shaver 1988). Our findings suggest
that men who report more autistic traits have the feeling
that they lack this intimacy or that they can not trust their
partner, which translates into the feeling that the relation-
ship is less satisfying.
It is noteworthy that dispositional measures, such as
self-esteem and attachment, did not function as mediators.
One could argue that this finding is an artifact of the cor-
respondence principle (e.g. Ajzen and Fishbein 1977). This
principle suggests that links between variables may be
stronger if the specificity of the predictor and criterion
match. In our study, the relationship-specific measures are
by definition a better match to relationship satisfaction than
dispositional measures and may therefore have had an
advantage over dispositional measures. Nevertheless, the
AQ-short too is a dispositional measure and the relation-
ship-specific measures were all consistently related to the
AQ-short. Furthermore, all proposed mediators correlated
with both the AQ-short and relationship satisfaction. Yet,
only the relationship-specific measures emerged as medi-
ators. Our data therefore nicely distinguishes between
factors that are merely related to both constructs and fac-
tors that can explain why people with autistic traits are less
satisfied with their relationship.
It is also possible that more complex models are appli-
cable whereby high AQ is related to low self-esteem, which
in turn translates in lower responsiveness, which then leads
to lower relationship functioning. More studies are needed
to investigate the processes underlying dispositional and
The cross-sectional nature of this study does not allow
us to draw strong conclusions about the causal direction of
the mediating effect. We argued that men who report
autistic traits report lower relationship functioning because
they feel that the relationship is less intimate. It is equally
possible however, that because they experience their rela-
tionship as less well-functioning, they withdraw from it and
therefore perceive it as less intimate. Furthermore, it should
be noted that despite its merits, the AQ remains a self-
report measure of the autistic traits. Prospective studies,
including individuals with a clinical diagnosis of autism,
are needed to illuminate the causal directions and the
generalizability of effects.
Subjectivity of Reduced Marital Functioning
It is important to note that we did not find partner effects,
that is, partners of people with more autistic traits did not
report lower relationship satisfaction than partners of
people with fewer autistic traits. This finding is inconsistent
with research using clinical samples that shows that wives
of men with ASD report lower relationship satisfaction
(Renty and Roeyers 2007). In our non-clinical sample,
husbands’ reduced relationship satisfaction and relation-
ship-specific feelings are not shared by their wives. Maybe
autistic traits only have a noticeable impact on the rela-
tionship if they reach clinical levels. It is possible that
wives simply perceive husbands with higher scores on the
AQ (but still non-clinical) as being ‘‘typical male.’’
Direct effect = -.09
Trust: β = -.07*
Disclosure: β = -.02
Responsiveness: β = -.05*
Self-esteem: β = .01
Intimacy: β = -.05*
Attachment: β = -.05
Total effect = -.34**
Fig. 1 Multiple mediation
analysis of AQ and relationship
satisfaction for husbands. The
top diagram displays the total
effect of the AQ on relationship
satisfaction. The bottom
diagram displays the direct
effect of the AQ and the indirect
effect through all the mediators.
* p\.05; ** p\.01
J Autism Dev Disord (2010) 40:470–478475
According to the extreme male brain theory of autism
(Baron-Cohen 2002) men engage in more systemizing and
less empathizing, and autism can be seen as an extreme
form of this profile. Therefore men with more autistic traits
may report less responsiveness, but rather than perceiving
this lack of responsiveness as negative wives may experi-
ence it as the default.
The finding that the wives’ relationship satisfaction is
not influenced by husbands’ score on the AQ is especially
surprising because responsiveness, trust, and intimacy
describe reciprocal processes between partners. That is,
because one partner is responsive, the other partner feels
more trust, which enhances intimacy (e.g. Wieselquist et al.
1999). If husbands who score higher on the AQ were
indeed less responsive this should have affected wives’
perception. Although men with more autistic traits reported
less responsiveness towards their wives, they may not
necessarily behave in a less responsive way than men with
fewer autistic traits. Alternatively, men with fewer autistic
traits may have overestimated their real-life responsive-
ness. This suggestion is consistent with findings on indi-
viduals with clinical ASD, who show enhanced analytic
abilities and a stronger correlation between social under-
standing and behavior than typically developing controls
(Travis et al. 2001; De Martino et al. 2008).
For women there was no link between autistic traits and
relationship satisfaction. Although wives in this study score
somewhat lower on the AQ than husbands, their scores
were high enough and had sufficient variation to find an
effect. Furthermore, wives’ score on the AQ correlated
significantly with all the mediators, indicating that social
functioning is decreased to a certain extent in women with
higher scores on the AQ. Maybe other personality mea-
sures, not assessed in our study, correlate with the AQ in
women but have a positive effect on their relationship
functioning, thereby cancelling out the negative effects of
the relationship relevant variables. Unfortunately, in the
current study there were no measures that can explain how
women with higher scores on the AQ compensate for lower
levels of responsiveness, trust, and intimacy. Investigating
this issue nevertheless seems important because if women
with high levels with AQ are able to compensate deficits in
their social skills, men may be able to learn to do the same.
Finally, husbands’ and wives’ scores on the AQ were not
correlated. Unlike other personality traits (Watson et al.
2004), there seems to be no positive assortative mating for
autistic traits. It has recently been suggested that autism
may be the genetic result of assortative mating of two high
systemisers (Baron-Cohen 2006). Our data suggest that two
individuals with more autistic traits are no more likely to
mate than any other two individuals. However, this may not
be in conflict with the findings of Baron-Cohen. He merely
notes that high systemisers’ mating more often results in
offspring with autism, without stating that two systemisers
are more likely to mate than any other two individuals. We
should emphasize that our study relies on non-clinical data,
and the assortative mating hypothesis may still be valid
when considering individuals with a clinical diagnosis of
ASD, or even individuals within the broader phenotype of
autism hypothesis (i.e. relatives of those with ASD). On the
other hand, it could be speculated that our finding invalidate
the assortative mating hypothesis of autism. Future research
on the differentiation between multiplex families (two or
more family members affected with ASD) and simplex
families (one individual affected) may shed more light on
this issue (Virkud et al. 2009).
Directions for Future Research
Our research gives a first indication why men with more
autistic traits are less satisfied with their relationships. By
identifying the mediating effects our research illuminates
the link between autistic traits and relationship satisfaction.
It thereby contributes to a better understanding of how
autistic traits may manifest themselves in social relation-
ships. An interesting next step would be to investigate the
longitudinal aspects of autistic traits in close relationships,
including the likelihood of divorce. If men with more
autistic traits are less satisfied with their relationship, it
seems plausible that those relationships are more likely to
end in divorce. However, autistic traits are positively cor-
related with relationship length (Jobe and Williams White
2007). Jobe and Williams White suggested that this cor-
relation stems from a resistance to change in individuals
with many autistic traits. So, although men with more
autistic traits may experience their relationships as less
satisfying they might persist longer than individuals with
less autistic traits because they are reluctant to change their
current life situation. It therefore seems especially impor-
tant to help individuals with more autistic traits to maintain
satisfying relationships. Our research may help to find
ways to improve relationship satisfaction of individuals
with many autistic traits by identifying the skills and per-
ceptions that mediate the link between autistic traits and
03-102 from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
(NWO). Catrin Finkenauer was supported by grant 452-05-322 from
the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).
Monique Pollmann was supported by grant 400-
Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which per-
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