VICTOR unique perspective, allowing the finding of a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VICTOR CORJA

RESEARCH PAPER – AP PSYCHOLOGY

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JAN 1, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abstract

To discover the criteria,
characteristics, and types of genius, I researched the methods that have been
used to study the subject. I considered the individual research of several
eminent psychologists and scientists to see their ideas on each of the three aspects
of genius; however, I discovered that there is a multitude of opinions on each
of those topics, and that not all of them correspond to one another.

            The
criteria for genius I discovered are very diverse, with the most commonly
accepted criteria being the ability to analyze and interpret a situation from a
unique perspective, allowing the finding of a unique solution, a high level of
intelligence, and eminence, which was found to almost always be a trait
attributed to the geniuses after their death. There were also a lot of
characteristics believed to be common to genius, with the one deemed to be most
important being creativity, and three other characteristics also appeared in
many of my sources: analytical capability, practicality, and wisdom.

            On
the types of intelligence, there wasn’t much research, which can be explained
by the fact that the idea of multiple intelligences has not been widely
accepted for very long. In fact, there are seven types of intelligence, each
one attributed to its own type of genius, accounting for geniuses in athletics,
the arts, and communication, aside from simple scholarly, scientific, or
mathematical ability.

 

 

 

 

 

            Genius:
Criteria, Characteristics, And Types

“Civilizations are often
defined by the lives and works of their creative geniuses” (Simonton, 1999). Geniuses
are critical to progress, because they lay the foundation of innovation,
allowing others to use their work to create new branches of science, or music,
or art, or communication, and leave a lasting impact on the world. However, the
study of genius, to this day, remains a largely unexplored subject, with many
more questions than answers, and a very evident lack of a way to obtain the
answers. A secondary problem to the lack of research is the disarray of the
research that has been done: almost
every researcher, psychologist, neuroscientist, and biologist has a belief that
is different from the rest, creating a cacophony of ideas from which it is
nearly impossible to find the truth. Throughout history, there have been many
attempts to define genius, considering its roots in intelligence, creativity,
eminence, ranging from very broad definitions to those that apply to only a
small subset of the population. Currently, an operational definition has been
created, combining the theories of multiple eminent psychologists and
biologists. It states that “a person of genius is anyone who … produces, over a
long period of time, a large body of work that has a significant influence on
many persons for many years; requiring these people … to come to terms with a different
set of attitudes, ideas, viewpoints, or techniques” (Albert, 1992). However,
even this operational definition fails to bring together the criteria,
characteristics, and types of genius, leaving research in some stagnation.

Prior to conducting my research,
I believed that the term “genius” referred to those with an intelligence
quotient of 140 or higher. This somewhat biased my initial research, as I only
considered verbal/linguistic genius, which is the only type of genius that can
be well-measured by an IQ test. The idea that genius referred to a high IQ also
caused me to overlook many types of research that are effective in analyzing
genius in historic figures, since I did not know that biographies or
psychometrics could be used to find genius in figures with an unregistered or
immeasurable IQ score.

            In
fact, numerous methods have been used to measure genius, both quantitively and
qualitatively. Quantitative measurements of genius are more abundant, but also
more often found to be either irrelevant to genius or inaccurate. Francis
Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and the founder of psychology, is generally
held to be the first to study genius scientifically. His tests, conducted in
1869, centered mainly on heredity after the discoveries of Darwin, and were
instrumental in pioneering qualitative studies of genius by other
psychologists.

Galton’s approach to assessing
genius in test subjects, known as psychometrics, involved “large-scale
assessments of individual differences on factors such as reactions times,
sensory acuity,” and multiple other factors (Simonton, 2014). The Stanford
psychologist Lewis Terman also used psychometrics, testing children using the
Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (a test of intelligence) to determine whether
they were geniuses, and testing the ones that were, as well as their families,
for a long duration of time in multiple “psychometric assessments, including
personality tests, and assessments of their mental and physical health”
(Simonton, 2014).

Galton also used a method
called historiometry to see whether natural ability was an inherited trait – he
looked at the number of eminent family members a particular eminent person had,
thereafter tracking the degrees of their relationships. His use of
historiometry spurred James McKeen Cattell, his student, to quantify eminence
as “the 1000 individuals who occupied the most space across a number of
encyclopedias and other reference works,” a method further refined by Havelock
Ellis to include specific details of the people on the list, including “birth
order, class, marital status, and other demographic factors” (Simonton, 2014).

Qualitative measurements,
harder to come by due to the very low number of geniuses currently living, are
mostly obtained through the various types of written biographies. A specific
type of biography, for example, “that aims to provide insight into the
psychology of genius,” involves the use of biographical information about
multiple eminent persons, one of which is believed to have been a genius, in
order “to illustrate the differences between giftedness, talent, and genius”
(Simonton, 2014). Another style of biographical writing, psychobiography, has
been used to study the concept of genius combining a biography with
psychological analysis “to give the reader a … look at the nature of genius”
(Simonton, 2014).

There were very few authors
who looked beyond biographies and psychobiographies to gain an autobiographical
aspect to the study of genius. Nancy C. Andreasen and Kay R. Jamison both used
interviews and questionnaires to explore the connection between mental illness
and genius, providing an “autobiographical voice … rarely heard in the
psychology of genius” (Simonton, 2014). However, most of the research by these
authors was somewhat skewed by the issue of not every person they interviewed
being a genius, some merely being eminent for their achievements.

Very rarely throughout history
has society been able to recognize true genius, and given it the opportunity to
thrive and create the body of work for which it is recognized, and thus
preventing progress that could change the world in any number of ways, which is
why the study of genius is significant. Further study of genius would allow scientists
to find a method to measure it in every person, enabling the creation of more
suitable and supportive environments that would allow the natural talent of a
genius to thrive.

It is also very important for
people to understand what genius means because it is often associated with
madness or mania, which leads to unjustified judgements of geniuses. It is
essential that people understand that there is an “essential opposition between
actual ‘madness’ and the super-normal achievement of genius” (Eysenck, 1995).  

The most common illness among
geniuses is a form of epilepsy that does not involve seizures, referred to as
“psychic equivalents of seizures” (Monroe, 1992). An idea of what causes the
large storms of electrical activity that arise during this illness could help
increase our understanding of psychology, and potentially devise new ways to
increase creativity through the administration of shocks directly to the limbic
system.

However, while there are
examples of geniuses who suffered from certain psychological and physical
illnesses that were attributed to illness, like Vincent van Gogh, Victoria
Woolf, Edvard Munch, there have been many more who were not afflicted by any
forms of illness, yet their genius is overlooked because they did not fit the
“mad genius” theory.

            The
concept of genius is one that has been explored “since the days of Aristotle
and Plato” by “philosophers, artists, teachers, scientists, psychiatrists, and
lately psychologists.” And yet despite the sheer amount of work put in to
define genius, a definition that satisfies every criterion and characteristic
has not yet been found. The work of Sigmund Freud and Francis Galton has had
the most impact on the current operational definition of genius, as they
initialized the idea that a genius is someone whose “large body of work”
significantly affects people for many years afterwards, causing a general
reevaluation of ideas and acknowledgment through references or “being
explicitly incorporated in others’ work” (Albert, 1992).

Since there is no singular
definition of genius, the criteria for being labeled as one are also diverse.
They range throughout many fields of learning and through many personality
traits, but those most commonly agreed upon are “exceptional memory, fast
calculation, original insights, and … the ability to see problems from unusual
perspectives,” as well as creativity, high levels of intelligence in any of the
spheres of intelligence (Csikszentmihalyi, 2015).  

As there are many varying
ideas on the meaning of genius, there are also many beliefs on what
characteristics are needed for it. One of the most commonly accepted
characteristics is creativity: the ability “to generate highly original ideas,
… the skill to distinguish great ideas, … and extremely high levels of
intrinsic motivation” (Albert, 1992). Analytical intelligence is another
characteristic seen in geniuses, which allows them to “analyze, evaluate,
judge, … compare and contrast” problems with which they are familiar. The
ability to apply the skills they have to problems that confront them or others
in daily life is yet another trait geniuses have, as is the ability to seek the
best possible outcome for oneself while maximizing the outcomes for others. Finally,
eminence is a characteristic that most geniuses share, however it is common for
them to obtain eminence after their death, as most geniuses are not acknowledged
in their own lifetimes.

            The reason for the difficulty in
categorizing and studying genius in the past has been that intelligence as
measured by IQ tests was seen as the main indicator of genius, and the other
types of genius have been disregarded. Presently, the IQ test is “criticized by
many people because it only measures some aspects of intelligences,”
measuring mostly the presence of verbal-linguistic intelligence (Jones, 2010).
There are, however, six other types of intelligences, each one attributed to a
separate type of genius: logical/mathematical intelligence, spatial/mechanical
intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal/social
intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. Each of them is attributed to a
separate type of genius, which is named simply as genius preceded by the type
of intelligence, such as musical genius or mechanical genius. There are
throughout history many examples of each type of genius, ranging from the
musical genius Mozart to the kinesthetic genius Muhammad Ali, and it is only
recently that they have begun to be considered geniuses, after the reformation
of the criteria.

            While
doing my research, I have found many conflicting views on all the facets of
genius, with multiple opinions about the origins, characteristics, and most
significantly the symptoms of genius, not as a disease, but as a recognizable
phenomenon. Of the many sources I viewed, there were only a few that agreed on
when a certain person merited the label of genius, or when the situation could
be attributed as simple eminence, or creativity of a more ordinary nature. I
have also realized that studies that have been done in this area were highly divided
and sometimes redundant. The greatest obstacle facing research right now is the
inability to identify geniuses of the different types other than
verbal/linguistic (which can be found using IQ tests, although those are not
always fully reliable). Since a majority of research on genius was done using
historical data from biographies and memoirs, there is very little concrete
information from tests done on living geniuses, aside from the tests administered
by Francis Galton and several of his students.

I think that my research could
become a starting point to unify all available information and tests into a
single database in order to help advance the understanding of genius as a
whole. It could also bring professionals from various areas to work together in
an attempt to understand a genius from all possible perspectives. Currently, in
universities and research facilities around the world, efforts are being made
by psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists to understand the biological
basis and origins of genius. As neuroscientists monitor brain activity during
the flashes of understanding common among geniuses, or “compare the
connectivity in the brains of geniuses” to that of non-geniuses, they could
share their work with biologists, psychologists, and historians attempting to
decode the origins of genius, helping them by providing accurate data from the
brains of geniuses. Psychologists and medical professionals could research into
both the biological criteria for genius (which haven’t been concretely
established) and thereafter into specific tests that could identify geniuses
before the creation of their large body of work (from the operational
condition), helping them by potentially creating more advanced or more suitable
environments for them. This is an issue that needs a complex approach.

Through my research, I
discovered that a genius isn’t just a person with a high IQ score; it is
someone who has accomplished something that can change the world in a
significant way, affecting people for many years thereafter. Francis Galton’s
work has also answered the question of the heritability of genius, showing that
heritability plays a very minor, if any, role in becoming a genius. However, my
research still couldn’t help me discover the true definition of a genius, as
that is something that hasn’t been found yet in concrete terms. Another
unanswered question that remains in my mind is how to identify genius, as that
is also a problem that hasn’t been solved yet by scientists, leaving the
geniuses of the modern age undiscovered, and therefore unaided. That, in my
mind, is the area that needs the most further research: both the identification
of genius, possibly through the creation of more tests like the IQ test that
can measure other types of intelligence, and the preparation of environments
where those geniuses can reach their full potential while surrounded by the
company of others like them. And as science and psychology make further and
further progress toward identifying all the criteria, characteristics, and
types of genius, the world needs to be prepared to provide a suitable
“environment that is supportive and rewarding of creative ideas” (Simonton,
2014).

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Albert, R. S. (1992). Genius
and eminence (pp. 35-58). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Csi?kszentmiha?lyi, M. (2014). Creativity and genius: A
systems perspective. In The systems
model of creativity (pp. 39-66). Dordrecht: Springer.

Eysenck, H. J. (1995). Genius:
The natural history of creativity (pp. 11-40). Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Galton, F. (1869). Hereditary
genius (pp. 6-13). New York, NY: Macmillan and Co.

Jones, J. (2010). Michael
Jackson rocked the world and lives forever (pp. 50-54). Baltimore, MD:
PublishAmerica.

Kretschmer, E. (2013). The
psychology of men of genius (pp. 14-29). Marburg: Routledge.

Monroe, R. R. (1992). Creative
brainstorms: the relationship between madness and genius (pp. 1-50).
New York, NY: Irvington.

Robinson, A. (2011). Genius: A very short introduction (pp. 1-13). Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1999). Origins
of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity (pp. 2-39). New York,
NY: Oxford University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (2014). The Wiley handbook of genius (pp. 1-19, 107-119, 183-208). Hoboken,
NJ: John Wiley & Sons.