VICTOR CORJARESEARCH PAPER – AP PSYCHOLOGYJAN 1, 2018 AbstractTo discover the criteria,characteristics, and types of genius, I researched the methods that have beenused to study the subject. I considered the individual research of severaleminent psychologists and scientists to see their ideas on each of the three aspectsof genius; however, I discovered that there is a multitude of opinions on eachof those topics, and that not all of them correspond to one another. Thecriteria for genius I discovered are very diverse, with the most commonlyaccepted criteria being the ability to analyze and interpret a situation from aunique perspective, allowing the finding of a unique solution, a high level ofintelligence, and eminence, which was found to almost always be a traitattributed to the geniuses after their death.
There were also a lot ofcharacteristics believed to be common to genius, with the one deemed to be mostimportant being creativity, and three other characteristics also appeared inmany of my sources: analytical capability, practicality, and wisdom. Onthe types of intelligence, there wasn’t much research, which can be explainedby the fact that the idea of multiple intelligences has not been widelyaccepted for very long. In fact, there are seven types of intelligence, eachone attributed to its own type of genius, accounting for geniuses in athletics,the arts, and communication, aside from simple scholarly, scientific, ormathematical ability.
Genius:Criteria, Characteristics, And Types”Civilizations are oftendefined by the lives and works of their creative geniuses” (Simonton, 1999). Geniusesare 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, thestudy of genius, to this day, remains a largely unexplored subject, with manymore questions than answers, and a very evident lack of a way to obtain theanswers.
A secondary problem to the lack of research is the disarray of theresearch that has been done: almostevery researcher, psychologist, neuroscientist, and biologist has a belief thatis different from the rest, creating a cacophony of ideas from which it isnearly impossible to find the truth. Throughout history, there have been manyattempts to define genius, considering its roots in intelligence, creativity,eminence, ranging from very broad definitions to those that apply to only asmall subset of the population. Currently, an operational definition has beencreated, combining the theories of multiple eminent psychologists andbiologists.
It states that “a person of genius is anyone who … produces, over along period of time, a large body of work that has a significant influence onmany persons for many years; requiring these people … to come to terms with a differentset 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 intelligencequotient of 140 or higher. This somewhat biased my initial research, as I onlyconsidered verbal/linguistic genius, which is the only type of genius that canbe well-measured by an IQ test. The idea that genius referred to a high IQ alsocaused me to overlook many types of research that are effective in analyzinggenius in historic figures, since I did not know that biographies orpsychometrics could be used to find genius in figures with an unregistered orimmeasurable IQ score. Infact, numerous methods have been used to measure genius, both quantitively andqualitatively.
Quantitative measurements of genius are more abundant, but alsomore often found to be either irrelevant to genius or inaccurate. FrancisGalton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and the founder of psychology, is generallyheld to be the first to study genius scientifically. His tests, conducted in1869, centered mainly on heredity after the discoveries of Darwin, and wereinstrumental in pioneering qualitative studies of genius by otherpsychologists.Galton’s approach to assessinggenius in test subjects, known as psychometrics, involved “large-scaleassessments of individual differences on factors such as reactions times,sensory acuity,” and multiple other factors (Simonton, 2014). The Stanfordpsychologist Lewis Terman also used psychometrics, testing children using theStanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (a test of intelligence) to determine whetherthey were geniuses, and testing the ones that were, as well as their families,for a long duration of time in multiple “psychometric assessments, includingpersonality tests, and assessments of their mental and physical health”(Simonton, 2014). Galton also used a methodcalled historiometry to see whether natural ability was an inherited trait – helooked at the number of eminent family members a particular eminent person had,thereafter tracking the degrees of their relationships. His use ofhistoriometry spurred James McKeen Cattell, his student, to quantify eminenceas “the 1000 individuals who occupied the most space across a number ofencyclopedias and other reference works,” a method further refined by HavelockEllis to include specific details of the people on the list, including “birthorder, 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, aremostly obtained through the various types of written biographies. A specifictype of biography, for example, “that aims to provide insight into thepsychology of genius,” involves the use of biographical information aboutmultiple eminent persons, one of which is believed to have been a genius, inorder “to illustrate the differences between giftedness, talent, and genius”(Simonton, 2014). Another style of biographical writing, psychobiography, hasbeen used to study the concept of genius combining a biography withpsychological analysis “to give the reader a … look at the nature of genius”(Simonton, 2014).There were very few authorswho looked beyond biographies and psychobiographies to gain an autobiographicalaspect to the study of genius. Nancy C.
Andreasen and Kay R. Jamison both usedinterviews and questionnaires to explore the connection between mental illnessand genius, providing an “autobiographical voice … rarely heard in thepsychology of genius” (Simonton, 2014). However, most of the research by theseauthors was somewhat skewed by the issue of not every person they interviewedbeing a genius, some merely being eminent for their achievements. Very rarely throughout historyhas society been able to recognize true genius, and given it the opportunity tothrive and create the body of work for which it is recognized, and thuspreventing progress that could change the world in any number of ways, which iswhy the study of genius is significant. Further study of genius would allow scientiststo find a method to measure it in every person, enabling the creation of moresuitable and supportive environments that would allow the natural talent of agenius to thrive.
It is also very important forpeople to understand what genius means because it is often associated withmadness or mania, which leads to unjustified judgements of geniuses. It isessential that people understand that there is an “essential opposition betweenactual ‘madness’ and the super-normal achievement of genius” (Eysenck, 1995). The most common illness amonggeniuses is a form of epilepsy that does not involve seizures, referred to as”psychic equivalents of seizures” (Monroe, 1992).
An idea of what causes thelarge storms of electrical activity that arise during this illness could helpincrease our understanding of psychology, and potentially devise new ways toincrease creativity through the administration of shocks directly to the limbicsystem.However, while there areexamples of geniuses who suffered from certain psychological and physicalillnesses that were attributed to illness, like Vincent van Gogh, VictoriaWoolf, Edvard Munch, there have been many more who were not afflicted by anyforms of illness, yet their genius is overlooked because they did not fit the”mad genius” theory. Theconcept of genius is one that has been explored “since the days of Aristotleand Plato” by “philosophers, artists, teachers, scientists, psychiatrists, andlately psychologists.” And yet despite the sheer amount of work put in todefine genius, a definition that satisfies every criterion and characteristichas not yet been found. The work of Sigmund Freud and Francis Galton has hadthe most impact on the current operational definition of genius, as theyinitialized the idea that a genius is someone whose “large body of work”significantly affects people for many years afterwards, causing a generalreevaluation of ideas and acknowledgment through references or “beingexplicitly incorporated in others’ work” (Albert, 1992).Since there is no singulardefinition of genius, the criteria for being labeled as one are also diverse.They range throughout many fields of learning and through many personalitytraits, but those most commonly agreed upon are “exceptional memory, fastcalculation, original insights, and … the ability to see problems from unusualperspectives,” as well as creativity, high levels of intelligence in any of thespheres of intelligence (Csikszentmihalyi, 2015). As there are many varyingideas on the meaning of genius, there are also many beliefs on whatcharacteristics are needed for it.
One of the most commonly acceptedcharacteristics is creativity: the ability “to generate highly original ideas,… the skill to distinguish great ideas, … and extremely high levels ofintrinsic motivation” (Albert, 1992). Analytical intelligence is anothercharacteristic seen in geniuses, which allows them to “analyze, evaluate,judge, … compare and contrast” problems with which they are familiar. Theability to apply the skills they have to problems that confront them or othersin daily life is yet another trait geniuses have, as is the ability to seek thebest possible outcome for oneself while maximizing the outcomes for others. Finally,eminence is a characteristic that most geniuses share, however it is common forthem to obtain eminence after their death, as most geniuses are not acknowledgedin their own lifetimes. The reason for the difficulty incategorizing and studying genius in the past has been that intelligence asmeasured by IQ tests was seen as the main indicator of genius, and the othertypes of genius have been disregarded. Presently, the IQ test is “criticized bymany 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 aseparate type of genius: logical/mathematical intelligence, spatial/mechanicalintelligence, musical intelligence, bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal/socialintelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. Each of them is attributed to aseparate type of genius, which is named simply as genius preceded by the typeof intelligence, such as musical genius or mechanical genius.
There arethroughout history many examples of each type of genius, ranging from themusical genius Mozart to the kinesthetic genius Muhammad Ali, and it is onlyrecently that they have begun to be considered geniuses, after the reformationof the criteria. Whiledoing my research, I have found many conflicting views on all the facets ofgenius, with multiple opinions about the origins, characteristics, and mostsignificantly the symptoms of genius, not as a disease, but as a recognizablephenomenon. Of the many sources I viewed, there were only a few that agreed onwhen a certain person merited the label of genius, or when the situation couldbe attributed as simple eminence, or creativity of a more ordinary nature. Ihave also realized that studies that have been done in this area were highly dividedand sometimes redundant. The greatest obstacle facing research right now is theinability to identify geniuses of the different types other thanverbal/linguistic (which can be found using IQ tests, although those are notalways fully reliable). Since a majority of research on genius was done usinghistorical data from biographies and memoirs, there is very little concreteinformation from tests done on living geniuses, aside from the tests administeredby Francis Galton and several of his students. I think that my research couldbecome a starting point to unify all available information and tests into asingle database in order to help advance the understanding of genius as awhole.
It could also bring professionals from various areas to work together inan attempt to understand a genius from all possible perspectives. Currently, inuniversities and research facilities around the world, efforts are being madeby psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists to understand the biologicalbasis and origins of genius. As neuroscientists monitor brain activity duringthe flashes of understanding common among geniuses, or “compare theconnectivity in the brains of geniuses” to that of non-geniuses, they couldshare their work with biologists, psychologists, and historians attempting todecode the origins of genius, helping them by providing accurate data from thebrains of geniuses. Psychologists and medical professionals could research intoboth the biological criteria for genius (which haven’t been concretelyestablished) and thereafter into specific tests that could identify geniusesbefore the creation of their large body of work (from the operationalcondition), helping them by potentially creating more advanced or more suitableenvironments for them. This is an issue that needs a complex approach.Through my research, Idiscovered that a genius isn’t just a person with a high IQ score; it issomeone who has accomplished something that can change the world in asignificant way, affecting people for many years thereafter. Francis Galton’swork has also answered the question of the heritability of genius, showing thatheritability plays a very minor, if any, role in becoming a genius. However, myresearch still couldn’t help me discover the true definition of a genius, asthat is something that hasn’t been found yet in concrete terms.
Anotherunanswered question that remains in my mind is how to identify genius, as thatis also a problem that hasn’t been solved yet by scientists, leaving thegeniuses of the modern age undiscovered, and therefore unaided. That, in mymind, is the area that needs the most further research: both the identificationof genius, possibly through the creation of more tests like the IQ test thatcan measure other types of intelligence, and the preparation of environmentswhere those geniuses can reach their full potential while surrounded by thecompany of others like them. And as science and psychology make further andfurther progress toward identifying all the criteria, characteristics, andtypes of genius, the world needs to be prepared to provide a suitable”environment that is supportive and rewarding of creative ideas” (Simonton,2014). ReferencesAlbert, R. S.
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