Perkins School for the Blind Transition Center

Exploring Autism Traits Among Jeopardy Contestants

The popular television quiz show Jeopardy requires contestants to have broad trivia knowledge. As rote memorization is a common strength among individuals with High-Functioning Autism (HFA), it is of interest as to whether Jeopardy contestants have higher symptomology of HFA than the general population. A sample of 117 former Jeopardy contestants completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and their scores were compared to those of a control group from Baron-Cohen et al. (2001). Former Jeopardy contestants scored significantly higher on all portions of the AQ than the control group and were more likely to surpass the clinical cutoff score of the AQ than the general population.

Colby Taylor with Alex Trebek on Jeopardy

The late Jeopardy host Alex Trebek with Colby Taylor

Jeopardy is America’s longest running and most popular nationally televised quiz game show, as it has produced more than 9,000 episodes in its 47-season history (, 2019). An average of around 9 million people watch Jeopardy daily, and the show airs internationally in over 25 countries (Grosvenor, 2019). Jeopardy has become even more popular over the past year with the announcement of beloved host Alex Trebek’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis and with the January 2020 airing of the Greatest of All Time Tournament, which drew in almost 15 million viewers per night (Adalian, 2020). Success on Jeopardy requires quick recall and a broad general knowledge base, and due to the cerebral demands it places on contestants, has been labeled “the thinking person’s game show” (Nelson, 2015).  

In 2017, Jeopardy contestant Kelvin Smith made national news in the United States as the first contestant to appear on the show with a public diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (Dunlap, 2017). While Smith is the first contestant to publicly share his diagnosis, it is likely that other contestants have held diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder in the show’s 47-season history. Asperger’s Syndrome was subsumed into the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in 2013 with the publication of the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The subset of individuals who formerly held diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome commonly specify this new diagnosis of ASD as High-Functioning Autism (HFA; Barahona-Correa & Filipe, 2015).  

Many individuals with HFA show a proclivity for rote knowledge (DeLong, 1992; Koegel & Koegel, 2006). Previous research has shown that winners of the UK Mathematics Olympiad scored higher on the Autism Spectrum Quotient, a screener for HFA, than a control sample (AQ; Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001). To even appear on Jeopardy, potential contestants must go through a rigorous process involving an online test, an in-person test, and an in-person audition. As many as 80,000 people take the test annually, and only several hundred are chosen to compete on the show (Hinds, 2018). Given that trivia shows such as Jeopardy require rote memorization, it is of interest whether former Jeopardy contestants score higher on the AQ than the general population. 


Participants – Participants consisted of former Jeopardy contestants recruited through a private social media group. A total of 117 participants (81 females, 36 males; M age = 43.4 years; SD age = 11.4 years) voluntarily completed the survey out of the approximately 2,475 social media group members (as of February 2020). 

Measures – The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) is a 50-item measure designed to screen for core symptoms of high-functioning autism spectrum disorder in adults. The AQ contains questions related to five areas – social, attention switching, local details, communication, and imagination – with 10 items devoted to each area. Each item consists of a statement (e.g., I find it hard to make new friends) and four accompanying Likert-type scale responses (i.e., definitely agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, definitely disagree). In examining test-retest reliability of the AQ, scores of 17 participants were not found to statistically significantly differ between an initial administration and a follow-up administration 2 weeks later (t(16) = 0.3, p = .75; Cohen et al., 2001). In examining internal consistency of the AQ, Cronbach’s alphas from all five AQ areas were found to be above .6 (Social = .77, Attention Switching = .67, Local Details = .63, Communication = .65, Imagination = .65; Cohen et al., 2001). Scores of 32 or above are generally indicative of the presence of ASD (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001).  

Procedure – A link to a SurveyMonkey survey containing the AQ as well as a short demographic questionnaire was posted in the private Jeopardy Contestants social media group with a brief description of the survey and proposed analyses. The survey was left open for a one month period. After closure of data collection, responses from the Jeopardy sample were compared to those from the control group of Baron-Cohen et al. (2001) using one sample t-tests. Independent sample t-tests were then conducted within the Jeopardy sample to determine if significant differences in AQ scores exist based on sex and whether participants won a game of Jeopardy.  

Results – Prior to analyses, all AQ scores were screened for outliers and distributional properties. No outliers were discovered using z scores < |2.5| and all skewness and kurtosis values were < |1.5|.  

Comparisons of the Jeopardy Sample to the Control Group of Baron-Cohen et al. (2001) 

One sample t-tests were conducted AQ scores from the Jeopardy sample to control group values from the Baron-Cohen et al. (2001) study. The total AQ score of the Jeopardy sample (M = 23.6, SD = 8.8) was significantly higher than that of the control group (M = 16.4, SD = 6.3) for combined sexes t(113) = 8.70, p < .002. The Jeopardy sample also scored significantly higher than the control group on all five AQ areas (Communication, Social, Imagination, Local Details, and Attention Switching). Additionally, females in the Jeopardy sample scored significantly higher than females in the control group on the total AQ score as well as all five AQ area scores. Males in the Jeopardy sample also scores significantly higher than males in the control group across all AQ scores (Please see Table 1).

Table 1. Comparisons between Jeopardy Sample and the Control Group from Baron-Cohen et al., 2001

Table 1. Comparisons between Jeopardy Sample and the Control Group from Baron-Cohen et al., 2001

Comparisons Within the Jeopardy Sample  

A series of independent t-tests were then conducted to determine if males and females within the Jeopardy sample obtained significantly different total AQ scores. There were no significant differences in total AQ scores between males (M = 23.0, SD = 8.7) and females (M = 23.9, SD = 9.0; t(112) = -0.49, p = .84). Additionally, there were no significant differences within the Jeopardy sample between males and females on any of the five AQ areas. Similarly, independent t-tests were conducted to determine if those who won a game of Jeopardy obtained significantly different total AQ scores from those who did not. There were no significant differences between those who won a game (M = 22.3, SD = 9.8) and those who did not (M = 24.5, SD = 8.1; t(112) = -1.24, p = .20). There were also no significant differences between those who won a game and those who did not for any of the five AQ area scores.  

Total AQ scores among the Jeopardy sample were then analyzed to determine how many participants obtained a score of 32 or higher, which is commonly considered the clinical cutoff for the screener. Of the 114 participants in the Jeopardy sample, 20 scored higher than the clinical cutoff.  


The sample of Jeopardy contestants scored significantly higher than the control group from the Baron-Cohen et al. (2001) study for the AQ total score as well as all five AQ area scores. Questions that were most commonly endorsed by participants in this sample were “New situations make me anxious” (88%) and “I tend to notice details that others do not” (83%), and “I notice patterns in things all the time” (79%). These latter two questions may relate to the absorption of details from one’s surroundings needed to pass the rigorous testing and audition processes. The question least endorsed by participants in this sample was “I don’t particularly enjoy reading fiction” (7%). Jeopardy requires broad knowledge across academic disciplines, and it is possible that reading non-fiction may be more heavily laden with trivia facts than fiction and better prepare individuals to appear on the show. Additionally, 20 of the 114 participants from the Jeopardy sample scored higher than the clinical cutoff for ASD on the AQ, which is more than 10 times the often cited 1 in 59 prevalence for ASD in the general population (Baio et al., 2018; Please see Table 2).

Table 2 Participants who scored at or greater than 32 on the AQ

Table 2. Participants who scored at or greater than 32 on the AQ

In the present study, Jeopardy contestants obtained significantly higher scores than a previously studied control group across all areas of the AQ. Additionally, using the clinical cutoff of 32 for the AQ, HFA symptomology in Jeopardy contestants may be over 10 times higher than that of the general population. 

To contact the Colby Taylor, PhD, please email 


Adalian, J. (January 2020). Jeopardy GOAT is shaping up to be a ratings giant. Vulture.  

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Author. 

Baio, J., Wiggins, L., Christensen, D. L., Maenner, M. J., Daniels, J., Warren, Z., Kurzius-Spencer, M.,…Dowling, N.F. (2018). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder among children aged 8 years—Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 sites, United States, 2014. Surveillance Summaries, 67(6), 1-23. 

Barahona-Correa, J. B., & Filipe, C. N. (2016). A concise history of Asperger Syndrome: The short reign of a troublesome diagnosis. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 2024.  

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., Clubley, E. (2001). The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31(1), 5-17. 

DeLong, G. R. (1992). Autism, amnesia, hippocampus, and learning. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 16(1), 63-70.  

Dunlap, S. (November 2017). Georgia Tech student with Asperger completes dream of competing on ‘Jeopardy’. The Telegraph.  

Grosvenor, C. (2019). ‘Jeopardy’: A brief history.  

Hinds, J. (July 2018). What happens during ‘Jeopardy auditions’? Behind the scenes in Detroit. Detroit Free Press.  

Koegel, R. L., & Koegel, L. K. (2006). Pivotal response treatment for autism: Communication, social, and academic development. Paul H. Brookes Publishing. 

Nelson, J. (2015). The book of mostly useless information. Xlibris.  

Have a Comment?