Systemizers are better code-breakers: self-reported systemizing predicts code-breaking performance in expert hackers and naïve participants

India Harvey, Samuela Bolgan, Daniel Mosca, Colin McLean, Elena Rusconi*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Studies on hacking have typically focused on motivational aspects and general personality traits of the individuals who engage in hacking; little systematic research has been conducted on predispositions that may be associated not only with the choice to pursue a hacking career but also with performance in either naïve or expert populations. Here, we test the hypotheses that two traits that are typically enhanced in autism spectrum disorders—attention to detail and systemizing—may be positively related to both the choice of pursuing a career in information security and skilled performance in a prototypical hacking task (i.e., crypto-analysis or code-breaking). A group of naïve participants and of ethical hackers completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient, including an attention to detail scale, and the Systemizing Quotient (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001, 2003). They were also tested with behavioral tasks involving code-breaking and a control task involving security X-ray image interpretation. Hackers reported significantly higher systemizing and attention to detail than non-hackers. We found a positive relation between self-reported systemizing (but not attention to detail) and code-breaking skills in both hackers and non-hackers, whereas attention to detail (but not systemizing) was related with performance in the X-ray screening task in both groups, as previously reported with naïve participants (Rusconi et al., 2015). We discuss the theoretical and translational implications of our findings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number229
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2016


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