Passion over pathology

March 19, 2009

Individual differences compose the most controversial area of psychology. In your collection of "geniuses" all the "celebrated" figures are male, as are almost all the senior academics who comment on them ("You don't have to be fixated to work here ...", 12 March).

The article conflates personality traits such as creativity with developmental disorders such as autism, without a reality check that people with autistic spectrum disorders are impaired in their capacity for imagination. The men cited are pretty diverse, but some of them would not have been so celebrated if they were not also good at self-publicity - not a trait associated with "antisocial oddballs".

Historically, few academic women were celebrated, but I doubt if Dorothy Hodgkin or Marie Curie scored highly for "psychoticism". Both were famous for their capacity for hard work and a determination to explore the boundaries of their field.

The Nobel laureate who most inspired me was Peter Medawar. At a personal and social level, he was open to new ideas and new encounters: not a feature of autistic disorders.

A testable hypothesis is that higher education has the greatest capacity for creative work when its workforce is most diverse in personality and interests. What unites researchers in fruitful settings may not be their pathology, but their passion.

Woody Caan, Anglia Ruskin University.

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