List of Contributors ix
Part I Perspectives 1
1 The Genius in History: Historiographic Explorations 3
Laura C. Ball
2 The Psychobiography of Genius 20
William Todd Schultz
3 Interviewing Highly Eminent Creators 33
Jeanne Nakamura and Jeff Fajans
4 Psychometric Studies of Scientific Talent and Eminence 62
Gregory J. Feist
5 Historiometric Studies of Genius 87
Dean Keith Simonton
Part II Processes 107
6 The Neuroscience of Creative Genius 109
Nancy C. Andreasen and Kanchna Ramchandran
7 Artistic Genius and Creative Cognition 120
8 Case Studies of Genius: Ordinary Thinking, Extraordinary Outcomes 139
Robert W. Weisberg
9 Virtual Genius 166
Part III Attributes 183
10 Varieties of Genius 185
Robert J. Sternberg and Stacey L. Bridges
11 Cognitive Disinhibition, Creativity, and Psychopathology 198
Shelley H. Carson
12 Openness to Experience 222
Robert R. McCrae and David M. Greenberg
13 Political and Military Geniuses: Psychological Profiles and Responses
to Stress 244
Part IV Origins 267
14 Genetics of Intellectual and Personality Traits Associated with Creative
Genius: Could Geniuses Be Cosmobian Dragon Kings? 269
Wendy Johnson and Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr.
15 Child Prodigies and Adult Genius: A Weak Link 297
16 Creative Genius: A View from the Expert-Performance Approach 321
K. Anders Ericsson
17 Cognitive Processes and Development of Chess Genius: An
Integrative Approach 350
Guillermo Campitelli, Fernand Gobet, and Merim Bilali´c
18 Diversifying Experiences in the Development of Genius and their Impact
on Creative Cognition 375
Rodica Ioana Damian and Dean Keith Simonton
Part V Trajectories 395
19 The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth at Maturity: Insights
into Elements of Genius 397
Harrison J. Kell and David Lubinski
20 Age and Scientific Genius 422
Benjamin F. Jones, E.J. Reedy, and Bruce A. Weinberg
21 Musical Creativity over the Lifespan 451
22 Literary Geniuses: Their Life, Work, and Death 473
Alexander S. McKay and James C. Kaufman
23 Lifetime Biopsychosocial Trajectories of the Terman Gifted Children:
Health, Well-Being, and Longevity 488
Katherine A. Duggan and Howard S. Friedman
Part VI Contexts 509
24 Evaluating Excellence in the Arts 511
Victor Ginsburgh and Sheila Weyers
25 The Systems Model of Creativity and Its Applications 533
26 Openness to Scientific Innovation 546
Frank J. Sulloway
27 Prominent Modern Artists: Determinants of Creativity 564
28 Genius in World Civilization 586
Part VII Prospects 609
29 Does Genius Science Have a Future History? 611
Dean Keith Simonton
Color plate section is between pages 170 and 171
List of Contributors
Nancy C. Andreasen MD Ph.D. is the Andrew H. Woods Chair of Psychiatry at
the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, USA. She is a recipient of the
President’s National Medal of Science, awarded in part for her work on pioneering
neuroimaging technologies and using them to study processes such as memory and
Laura C. Ball MA is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at York University, Canada and
is the Knowledge Translation and Implementation Coordinator at Waypoint Centre
for Mental Health Care, Canada. She is interested in technologies of the self, feminist
theory, historiography, and integrated knowledge translation. Her recent publications
in this area include an article in History of Psychology titled “Genius without the ‘Great
Man’: New Possibilities for the Historian of Psychology.”
Merim Bilali´c is a professor in the Department of General Psychology and Cognitive
Science at Alpen Adria University Klagenfurt, Austria. He received his D.Phil. from
Oxford University, UK in 2006. He is interested in cognitive and neural mechanisms
in expertise, and his work on the Einstellung effect won the British Psychological
Society’s Award for the Outstanding Doctoral Research Contribution to Psychology
in 2008. He has published on cognitive aspects of expertise in Cognitive Psychology
and Cognition, on their neural implementation in Journal of Experimental Psychology:
General and Journal of Neuroscience, and on individual differences in Intelligence and
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr. earned his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Califor-
nia, Berkeley, USA. He spent most of his career at the University of Minnesota, Min-
neapolis, USA, where he is professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology. His
research and teaching career spans social psychology, industrial/organizational psy-
chology, individual differences, evolutionary psychology, and behavior genetics. His
current research interests are in the domains of social attitudes, personality, and values.
Stacey L. Bridges is an instructor at East Central University in Oklahoma City, USA.
Guillermo Campitelli is a senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University, Australia. He
investigates individual differences in performance, judgments, and decisions with
the ultimate goal of advancing knowledge to help individuals, organizations, and
x List of Contributors
societies maximize performance, improve the quality of judgments, and make ratio-
nal and adaptive decisions. His recent article “Deliberate Practice: Necessary but not
sufficient,” published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, exemplifies his
extensive research in chess. expertise.
Shelley H. Carson Ph.D. is an associate of the Department of Psychology and lec-
turer in extension at Harvard University, USA where she conducts research and teaches
courses on creativity, abnormal psychology, and resilience. Her work on creativity
has been published in national and international peer-reviewed science journals and
has been highlighted in national media, including the Discovery Channel, CNN, and
National Public Radio. She is also author of the award-winning book Your Creative
Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life
and co-author of Almost Depressed: Is My or My Loved One’s Unhappiness a Problem?
David Cope is currently Dickerson Professor Emeritus at the University of California
at Santa Cruz, USA. He is primarily known for his work in computer composition in
musical styles and is the creator of Experiments in Musical Intelligence. His own music
includes nine symphonies, four operas, many symphonic poems, and chamber music
of various kinds. These works have been performed extensively around the world.
His books include New Directions in Music (7th ed.), Techniques of the Contempo-
rary Composer, Computers and Musical Style, Experiments in Musical Intelligence, The
Algorithmic Composer, Virtual Music, and Computer Models of Musical Creativity. He
is also published four novels (Death of Karlin Mulrey, Not by Death Alone, Death by
Proxy, and Mind Over Death), two books of short stories (Of Blood and Tears and My
Gun is Loaded), and a book of 2,000 haiku called Comes the Fiery Night. His algorith-
mic art has been exhibited in several venues as well. He currently lives with his wife in
Santa Cruz, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was born in Fiume, Italy (now Rijeka, Croatia), to Hungar-
ian parents. He left Italy in 1956 to study in the United States. He received a Ph.D. in
human development from the University of Chicago, USA in 1965 and started teach-
ing at a nearby college. During this time, he developed the basic model of the flow
experience. In 1970 Mihaly returned to the University of Chicago, where he became
chair of the Department of Psychology. In 1999 he accepted an offer to teach at the
Claremont Graduate University in California, USA where he started the first doctoral
program in positive psychology.
Rodica Ioana Damian earned her Ph.D. in social-personality psychology from the
University of California, Davis, USA in 2013. She is currently a postdoctoral research
associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA working with Dr
Brent Roberts. Her research program is aimed at understanding the role of envi-
ronmental antecedents on personality development and downstream consequences
for achievement and creativity. In recognition of her research, Dr Damian has been
awarded the Provost’s Dissertation Year Fellowship and the Social Sciences Dean’s
Doctoral Fellowship for Excellence Award by the University of California, Davis, USA
and the Frank X. Barron Award by the Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Cre-
ativity, and the Arts, Division 10 of the American Psychological Association.
Katherine A. Duggan is a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside,
USA. She is interested in the relationships between personality, sleep, and health across
List of Contributors xi
the lifespan. A Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellowship Award recipient, Duggan has
uncovered some of the first evidence for lifespan associations between sleep and health.
K. Anders Ericsson is Conradi Eminent Scholar at Florida State University, USA.
He studies expert performance and how expert performers attain their superior per-
formance by acquiring complex cognitive mechanisms through extended deliberate
practice. He has edited the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance
and The Development of Professional Expertise.
Jeff Fajans MA is a doctoral student in positive organizational psychology at Clare-
mont Graduate University, USA. His research focuses on creativity, innovation, and
how mobile technologies can be leveraged as positive developmental interventions to
achieve enhanced outcomes such as well-being, creative performance, and learning.
Gregory J. Feist is currently associate professor of psychology in personality at San
Jos´e State University, USA and director of the MA program in research and exper-
imental psychology. He has also taught at the College of William & Mary and the
University of California at Davis. He received his Ph.D. in 1991 from the University
of California at Berkeley and his undergraduate degree in 1985 from the University
of Massachusetts-Amherst. He is widely published in the psychology of creativity, the
psychology of science, and the development of scientific talent. One major focus of his
work is establishing the psychology of science as a healthy and independent study of
science, along the lines of the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. His major
efforts toward this end are publishing a book entitled Psychology of Science and the
Origins of the Scientific Mind, which was awarded the 2007 William James Book Prize
by the Division of General Psychology, American Psychological Association (APA);
being the founding president of the newly formed “International Society for the Psy-
chology of Science and Technology”; and being the founding editor-in-chief of a new
peer-reviewed journal, Journal of Psychology of Science & Technology.
Howard S. Friedman is distinguished professor of psychology at the University of
California, Riverside, USA. He has received the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award
from the Association for Psychological Science, a career award for applied research.
His latest book is The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long
Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, which summarizes his 20-year scientific
study of the pathways to health and long life. This book won first place in the Well-
ness category in the Books for A Better Life awards competition. Friedman has also
received many teaching awards, including most recently the national Elizabeth Hur-
lock Beckman Award, for “inspiring students to make a difference in the community.”
Victor Ginsburgh, is honorary professor of economics at ECARES, Universit´e libre
de Bruxellles, Belgium and is also affiliated to CORE, Universit´e catholique de Lou-
vain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. He has written and edited many books and is the
author of over 180 papers in applied and theoretical economics, including industrial
organization and general equilibrium analysis. His recent work includes economics of
the arts, wines, and languages; he has published over 70 papers on these topics, some
of which appeared in American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Games
and Economic Behavior, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Economic Journal, Journal of
the European Economic Association, Empirical Studies of the Arts, and the Journal of
xii List of Contributors
Cultural Economics. He is coeditor (with David Throsby) of the two volumes of the
Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture.
Fernand Gobet is professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Liverpool,
UK. His main research interest is the psychology of expertise and talent, which he has
studied in numerous domains including board games, physics, computer program-
ming, music, sport, business, language acquisition, nursing, and physiotherapy. His
research combines experimental methods with computational modelling. He has coau-
thored six books, including Psychologie du Talent et de l’Expertise and Foundations of
David M. Greenberg is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge, UK where
he researches individual differences in musical engagement, including the emotional,
cognitive, and social implications of strong musical experiences.
Christiane Hellmanzik is assistant professor of economics at the University of
Hamburg, Germany. Her research focuses on applied microeconomics, in particu-
lar agglomeration, peer effects, “superstars,” and migration. She holds a BSc in eco-
nomics from the University of Maastricht, an MA in economics from University Col-
lege Dublin, and a Ph.D. in economics from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
Wendy Johnson graduated in mathematics from Occidental College in Los Ange-
les, USA. She spent many years as a consulting casualty actuary in the San Francisco
Bay Area before entering the doctoral program in psychology at the University of
Minnesota, USA, completing her degree in 2005. Her research focuses on individ-
ual differences in mental abilities, personality, academic achievement, and later-life
health, emphasizing transactions between genetic and environmental influences. She
is currently in the Department of Psychology and Centre for Cognitive Ageing and
Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, UK.
Benjamin F. Jones is an associate professor at the Kellogg School of Management,
Northwestern University, USA, where he also directs the Kellogg Innovation and
Entrepreneurship Initiative, and is a research associate of the National Bureau of Eco-
nomic Research. His research focuses largely on innovation and creativity, with recent
work investigating the role of teamwork in innovation and the relationship between
age and invention. He also studies global economic development, including the roles
of education, climate, and national leadership in explaining the wealth and poverty
of nations. His research has appeared in journals such as Science, the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences, and the Quarterly Journal of Economics and has
been profiled in media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, and The
James C. Kaufman is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Con-
necticut, USA. He is the author or editor of 25 books either published or in press,
including Creativity 101 and is the editor of the APA journal Psychology of Popular
Media Culture and the current president of APA’s Division 10 (Psychology of Aes-
thetics, Creativity, and the Arts).
Harrison J. Kell is a postdoctoral fellow at the Study of Mathematically Precocious
Youth at Vanderbilt University, USA. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from Rice
List of Contributors xiii
University, USA in 2011. He is interested in how individual differences predict human
performance, broadly construed, and how basic knowledge about human psycholog-
ical diversity can be better utilized in the developmental sciences, in applied settings,
and for developing policy. His research interests in human potential are illustrated in
two recent articles in Psychological Science: “Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators”
and “Creativity and Technical Innovation: Spatial Ability’s Unique Role.” The former
underscores the importance of assessing the full range of human potential for under-
standing creativity and the latter highlights neglected talent currently being missed.
Aaron Kozbelt is professor of psychology at Brooklyn College, USA and The Grad-
uate Center of the City University of New York, USA. His research foci lie at the
intersection of creativity and cognition in the arts, particularly on the nature of the
creative process in visual art, archival analyses of lifespan creativity trajectories and
self-evaluation in classical composers, and the psychological basis of skilled artistic
drawing. He is the author of over 60 journal articles and book chapters on these and
other topics and serves on several editorial boards. He has been the recipient of the
American Psychological Association Division 10 Daniel Berlyne Award for Creativity
Research and the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics Alexander Gottlieb
Baumgarten Award for Creativity Research and his research has been funded by the
National Science Foundation.
David Lubinski is professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, USA and co-
director of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, a planned 50-year longi-
tudinal study of over 5,000 intellectually talented participants begun in 1971. His
research interests are in modeling the development of exceptional intellectual talent
over the life span (with cognitive, affective, and conative assessments) and uncovering
factors that enhance and attenuate for this population learning and work accomplish-
ments as well as creativity. He is president of the International Society for Intelli-
gence Research (2013) and a trustee for the Society for Multivariate Experimental
Psychology, and he has served as associate editor for the Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology. In 1996, he received the APA’s Early Career Award (psychomet-
rics/applied individual differences) and the George A. Millar Outstanding Article in
General Psychology Award; in 2006, he received the Distinguished Scholar Award
from the National Association for Gifted Children.
Robert R. McCrae is retired from the National Institute on Aging, where he con-
ducted research on personality structure, development, and assessment. He is coau-
thor (with Paul T. Costa, Jr.) of Personality in Adulthood: A Five-Factor Theory Per-
spective. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Alexander S. McKay is a graduate student in experimental psychology at Califor-
nia State University at San Bernardino, USA. His research interests include creativity,
personality, and ethics.
Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for
Public Policy Research, USA. His books include Losing Ground, The Bell Curve (with
Richard J. Herrnstein), Human Accomplishment, and Coming Apart.
Jeanne Nakamura is associate professor of psychology, Claremont Graduate Univer-
sity, USA, where she codirects the positive psychology program and the Quality of Life
xiv List of Contributors
Research Center. Her BA and Ph.D. were received from the University of Chicago,
USA. She studies positive functioning in a lifespan-developmental context, includ-
ing engagement and creativity, mentoring and good work, and aging well. She is the
coauthor of Good Mentoring and Creativity and Development and coeditor of Applied
Kanchna Ramchandran Ph.D. is a post-doctoral fellow at the Carver College of
Medicine, University of Iowa, USA and an expert in neuroeconomics.
E.J. Reedy is a Ph.D. student in managerial economics at Northwestern Univer-
sity, USA and a Research Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. He has been signif-
icantly involved in the coordination of the Kauffman Foundation’s entrepreneurship
and innovation data-related initiatives, including serving as a principal investigator
with the Kauffman Firm Survey. His research has focused on business dynamics, high-
growth entrepreneurship, and the intersections of great scientific and entrepreneurial
achievement. Prior to joining the Kauffman Foundation, Reedy was a senior analyst
at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and had extensive experience in non-profit
management. He has been a consultant to the National Science Foundation and pub-
lished in journals including the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences and
been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and elsewhere in the
William Todd Schultz is a professor of psychology at Pacific University in Oregon,
USA. In 2005 he edited the groundbreaking Handbook of Psychobiography, and he
now curates the Inner Lives series. He is the author of three books: Tiny Terror: Why
Truman Capote Almost Wrote Answered Prayers, An Emergency in Slow Motion: The
Inner Life of Diane Arbus, and Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith. Schultz lives
in Portland, Oregon.
Dean Keith Simonton earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University, USA and is cur-
rently Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis,
USA. His more than 460 publications (including a dozen books) concentrate on
genius, creativity, leadership, talent, and aesthetics. His honors include the William
James Book Award, the Sir Francis Galton Award for Outstanding Contributions to
the Study of Creativity, the Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Contributions
to Psychology and the Arts, the Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Media Psy-
chology Award, the George A. Miller Outstanding Article Award, the Theoretical
Innovation Prize in Personality and Social Psychology, the E. Paul Torrance Award
for Creativity from the National Association for Gifted Children, three Mensa Awards
for Excellence in Research, and the Joseph B. Gittler Award for “the most scholarly
contribution to the philosophical foundation of psychological knowledge” from the
American Psychological Foundation.
Robert J. Sternberg is professor of human development at Cornell University, USA.
Peter Suedfeld was born in Hungary. Shortly after the end of World War II his father
and he immigrated to the United States, where he performed his military service
and completed his education (Ph.D., Princeton University, 1963). After teaching at
several US institutions, he moved to the University of British Columbia, Vancou-
ver, Canada as head of the Department of Psychology, and later served as dean of
List of Contributors xv
graduate studies. Now emeritus, he continues his research, which focuses on how peo-
ple adapt during and after challenging experiences such as experimental sensory depri-
vation, spaceflight, polar deployment, decision-making under high stress, and ethnic
Frank J. Sulloway is an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychology at the
University of California, Berkeley, USA. The recipient of a MacArthur Award (1984–
1989), he has focused his research on personality development and family dynamics,
especially as they relate to creative achievement. He has also conducted research in
evolutionary psychology, on the evolution of Darwin’s finches (including reproduc-
tive success, anti-predator responses, and adaptive divergence), and in the history of
science (Darwin, Freud, and revolutionary innovations).
Paul Thagard is professor of philosophy and director of the cognitive science program
at the University of Waterloo, Canada. His many books include The Brain and the
Meaning of Life and The Cognitive Science of Science.
Bruce A. Weinberg is professor of economics at the Ohio State University, USA and
research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Institute for
the Study of Labor, Bonn, Germany. His work on science and innovation studies how
creativity varies over the life cycle and how an individual’s own creativity is affected by
the presence of other important innovators. He has also studied migration of innova-
tors, trends in innovative competitiveness across countries, and the economic impacts
of innovation. His research has been supported by the Federal Reserve, the National
Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Templeton Founda-
tion and has been published in journals including the American Economic Review,
the Journal of Political Economy, the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sci-
ences, and Science. He has advised policy makers at a variety of levels and has received
extensive international media coverage.
Robert W. Weisberg is professor of psychology and director of graduate training at
Temple University, USA. His research focuses on the cognitive processes underlying
creative thinking. He has published numerous books and papers presenting case stud-
ies of creative thinking at the highest levels as well as experimental investigations of
creative thinking in the laboratory.
Sheila Weyers of the Universit´e catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
has a degree in philosophy and is interested in aesthetics and its relations with art
history. She has published on movies, including remakes, and on the art historian de
Piles; she is now working on canons. Her papers appeared in Artibus et Historiae, the
Journal of Cultural Economics, Annales d’Histoire de l’Art et d’Arch´eologie, Poetics and
Empirical Studies in the Arts.
Ellen Winner is professor and chair of psychology at Boston College, USA and senior
research associate at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA. She
directs the Arts and Mind Lab, which focuses on cognition in the arts in typical and
gifted children. She is the author of over 100 articles and four books: Invented Worlds:
The Psychology of the Arts, The Point of Words: Children’s Understanding of Metaphor
and Irony, Gifted Children: Myths and Realities (translated into six languages and win-
ner of the Alpha Sigma Nu National Jesuit Book Award in Science), and is coauthor
xvi List of Contributors
of Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education. She served as pres-
ident of APA’s Division 10, Psychology and the Arts, in 1995–1996, and in 2000
received the Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Research by a Senior Scholar
in Psychology and the Arts from Division 10. She is a Fellow of the American Psy-
chological Association (Division 10) and of the International Association of Empirical
Genius is certainly not an esoteric or obscure topic. Its broad interest can be easily
demonstrated using the now-standard “Google test.” Just google the word and see
how many websites pop up. The last time I did so, about 330,000,000 sites emerged.
To be sure, few of these can be considered scientific treatments of the subject. On the
contrary, the term is often used for its marketing potential. One of my favorite T-shirts
reads “Guinness, Gaelic for Genius.” Hence, a better reflection of its status might be
obtained using Google Scholar, in which case we get about 1,040,000 results – a
still impressive figure. It is also gratifying to find a few of my own contributions to
the subject show up in the output. After all, I have been studying genius ever since
I started working on my doctoral dissertation over 40 years ago! Admittedly, I did
not use “genius” in the title of every publication that emerged since then. Because
genius assumes many different forms, it is often possible to use a more specific term
as the subject of research – like greatness, eminence, achievement, creativity, talent,
or leadership. Indeed, over the past four decades, I have studied the phenomenon as
it appears in science and technology, philosophy, painting and sculpture, poetry and
drama, music, opera, cinema, politics, and even war – from scientific to military genius
and (almost) everything between.
Among the works listed on the initial page of the Google Scholar output is the
first classic contribution to the subject: Galton’s (1869) Hereditary Genius. Subse-
quent book-length treatments with “genius” somewhere in the main title include
Lombroso’s (1891) The Man of Genius, Ellis’s (1904) A Study of British Genius,
Cox’s (1926) The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses, Bowerman’s (1947)
Studies in Genius, Becker’s (1978) The Mad Genius Controversy, Ehrenwald’s (1984)
The Anatomy of Genius, Hershman and Lieb’s (1988) The Key to Genius, Eysenck’s
(1995) Genius, Howe’s (1999) Genius Explained, my own 1999 Origins of Genius
(Simonton, 1999), Miller’s (2000) Insights of Genius, Galenson’s (2005) Old Mas-
ters and Young Geniuses, Sawyer’s (2007) Group Genius, and Ness’s (2013) Genius
Unmasked. To this list might be added Murray’s (1989) edited volume on Genius: A
History of the Idea. Hence, genius has been a popular subject of scholarly inquiry for
well over a century.
Yet something is strikingly missing in all of the above titles: the word “handbook.”
Indeed, a Handbook of Genius has never been published, at least not in any of the prin-
cipal languages of science. This omission can be verified by conducting yet another
Google search, which now elicits nothing – no edited volume containing authorita-
tive chapters covering key aspects of the phenomenon. What makes this absence even
more astonishing is the obvious abundance of handbooks concerning closely related
topics, such as creativity, leadership, talent, and giftedness. As an example, four dif-
ferent creativity handbooks were published between 1989 and 2010, or about two
per decade. Any “handbook of genius” thus remains conspicuously absent from the
Consequently, when Andrew Peart at Wiley Blackwell asked me to consider editing
just such a handbook, I jumped at the chance. Opportunity does not knock that often.
Because I had already written chapters for previous Wiley Blackwell handbooks, I had
prior experience working with them. More importantly, this new project seemed an
ideal way to culminate my own research by bringing it together with the best work
conducted by my contemporaries. Furthermore, the fact that such a handbook was
long overdue was proven by how easy it was to recruit expert contributors. The first-
pass acceptance rate for my invitations was nearly perfect! The outcome is this volume
containing substantially more than two dozen chapters. These chapters have been
organized into seven parts.
Part I deals with the various perspectives on genius. After a treatment of the role of
genius in history – both as a discipline and as a phenomenon – the next four chap-
ters discuss the main scientific methods for studying genius, namely, psychobiogra-
phy, face-to-face interview, psychometric measurement, and historiometric analysis.
Because I wrote the last chapter, I decided to use it as a transition linking the first
four chapters with virtually all of the chapters that follow. It may be noted that one
major mainstream method is missing, namely laboratory experiments. For reasons too
obvious to mention, it is extremely rare for world-acclaimed geniuses to volunteer to
serve as experimental participants in some professor’s lab!
Part II turns to the individual processes that underlie the works of geniuses. The
mind–brain sciences have experienced a substantial growth in recent years, so it may
not surprise anyone that the first chapter is devoted to the neuroscience of genius.
The next two chapters concentrate on specific examples of creative genius in order
to decipher the cognitive and related processes underlying their contributions. This
part closes with a chapter that raises a fascinating question: If computer programs can
simulate the musical creativity of recognized geniuses, such as J. S. Bach, Ludwig van
Beethoven, and Scott Joplin, does this indicate that genius is far more ordinary than
people imagine? Readers probably do not need to be reminded that it was not long
ago that a computer chess program beat Gary Kasparov, an undeniable chess genius
(Hsu, 2002). Without a doubt, nothing mystical would be required.
The foregoing conclusion might be interpreted as saying that geniuses are just like
the rest of us. Yet this interpretation is wrong. Geniuses tend to feature some personal
characteristics that make them identifiably different. This conclusion is established
in the chapters making up Part III, which all concern the attributes of geniuses.
Although genius is often associated with exceptional intelligence – and frequently
defined as a superlative IQ – other individual-difference variables are involved as well
(see also Simonton, 2011). At the same time, there is no such thing as a single generic
type of genius. Instead, genius comes in different flavors depending on the domain
The obvious next question concerns the origins of genius, the central subject of
Part IV. Although the issue about whether genius is born or made goes back centuries,
Francis Galton (1874) was the first to formulate the question in scientific research. Not
surprisingly, the chapters span the full range of treatments, from genetic factors to
environmental influences. This discussion must necessarily include the critical relation
between child prodigies and adulthood genius. Although prodigies are often loosely
referred to as geniuses in the popular media, that designation may add more confusion
The last remark suggests the need to understand the trajectories of genius, the focus
of the five chapters in Part V. Actually, these chapters form a kind of intellectual sand-
wich. The middle three chapters all use historiometric methods to study the course
of a creative career in three domains, namely, science, music, and literature. On the
outside are chapters that report the results of the two most ambitious psychometric
longitudinal studies ever conducted. Although the last two chapters use very different
methods, they both introduce the important issue of life expectancies – the terminal
point of the trajectory.
Up to this point, genius has been treated as an entirely individualistic phenomenon.
Yet as pointed out long ago, genius takes place in a larger sociocultural milieu
(Candolle, 1873; Kroeber, 1944). This point is well demonstrated in the chapters in
Part VI that in various ways treat contexts of genius. For example, some of the contrib-
utors scrutinize the recognition process. Although people will sometimes speak of the
“neglected genius,” from the standpoint of the social context, this expression becomes
an oxymoron. Other contributors devote more attention to the factors that affect the
emergence of genius that will earn the recognition not just of contemporaries but also
Part VII concludes the handbook with a single chapter dealing with prospects.
Besides bringing everything together, here the editor endeavors to lay out the future
history of genius science. Although highly speculative, it is hoped that these specula-
tions will inspire research for another century or more.
One final word: I wish to dedicate this handbook to the memory of a deceased senior
colleague, namely, Robert S. Albert, who passed away in 2011. Although probably
nobody knew until now, Bob played a major role in my career-long pursuit of genius
as an important topic of scientific research. In 1975, the same year that I officially
earned my Ph.D., Bob published an article on genius in the American Psychologist,
the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association (Albert, 1975). This
article provided some professional legitimacy to the question that has largely occu-
pied me ever since. Moreover, not too long afterward, Bob edited an anthology on
Genius and Eminence that reprinted some classic contributions to that topic (Albert,
1983). Because the volume included studies that are more recent as well, it amply
demonstrated that genius was by no means an obsolete target for empirical inquiry. In
less than a decade, this anthology came out in a new edition with some additions as
well as subtractions (Albert, 1992). Imagine my gratification to discover that one of
my very own publications was included among the additions (viz. Simonton, 1991). I
had now been certified as contributing to the area I found so fascinating! Yet Bob did
not stop here. Shortly after the second edition of Genius and Eminence, he convinced
another publisher to put out a collection of my most important scientific journal arti-
cles devoted to genius and creativity (Simonton, 1997). Besides personally selecting
and organizing the dozen featured articles, Bob wrote a very fine preface. How many
scholars receive this magnitude of encouragement only two decades into their careers?
Hence, I seriously wonder whether the Handbook of Genius would ever have hap-
pened had not my guardian angel appeared at key moments earlier in my career. In a
sense, the handbook counts as the culmination of another’s career now unfortunately
The Editor, 30 September, 2013
Albert, R. S. (1975). Toward a behavioral definition of genius. American Psychologist, 30, 140–
Albert, R. S. (Ed.). (1983). Genius and eminence: The social psychology of creativity and excep-
tional achievement. Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.
Albert, R. S. (Ed.). (1992). Genius and eminence (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.
Becker, G. (1978). The mad genius controversy: A study in the sociology of deviance. Beverly Hills,
CA: Sage Publications.
Bowerman, W. G. (1947). Studies in genius. New York, NY: Philosophical Library.
Candolle, A. de (1873). Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux si`ecles. Geneve: Georg.
Cox, C. (1926). The early mental traits of three hundred geniuses. Stanford, CA: Stanford Uni-
Ehrenwald, J. (1984). The anatomy of genius: Split brains and global minds. New York, NY:
Ellis, H. (1904). A study of British genius. London, UK: Hurst & Blackett.
Eysenck, H. J. (1995). Genius: The natural history of creativity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
Galenson, D. W. (2005). Old masters and young geniuses: The two life cycles of artistic creativity.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Galton, F. (1869). Hereditary genius: An inquiry into its laws and consequences. London, UK:
Galton, F. (1874). English men of science: Their nature and nurture. London, UK: Macmillan.
Hershman, D. J., & Lieb, J. (1988). The key to genius: Manic-depression and the creative life.
Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Howe, M. J. A. (1999). Genius explained. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hsu, F. (2002). Behind Deep Blue: Building the computer that defeated the world chess champion.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kroeber, A. L. (1944). Configurations of culture growth. Berkeley, CA: University of California
Lombroso, C. (1891). The man of genius. London, UK: Scott.
Miller, A. I. (2000). Insights of genius: Imagery and creativity in science and art. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.
Murray, P. (Ed.). (1989). Genius: The history of an idea. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Ness, R. B. (2013) Genius unmasked. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Sawyer, R. K. (2007). Group genius: The creative power of collaboration. New York, NY: Basic
Simonton, D. K. (1991). Personality correlates of exceptional personal influence: A note on
Thorndike’s (1950) creators and leaders. Creativity Research Journal, 4, 67–78.
Simonton, D. K. (1997). Genius and creativity: Selected papers. Greenwich, CT: Ablex.
Simonton, D. K. (1999). Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity. New York, NY:
Oxford University Press.
Simonton, D. K. (2011). Exceptional talent and genius. In T. Chamorro-Premuzic, A. Furn-
ham, & S. Stumm (Eds.), Handbook of individual differences (pp. 635–655). New York,
NY: Wiley Blackwell.
4 Laura C. Ball
We have undertaken to discourse here for a little on Great Men, their manner of appear-
ance in our world’s business, how they have shaped themselves in the world’s history,
what ideas men formed of them, what work they did; – on Heroes, namely and on their
reception and performance; what I call Hero-worship and the Heroic in human affairs.
(1841, p. 3)
To current historians and scholars interested in genius, Carlyle’s perspective seems
foreign. He describes the genius and the hero as “divine” and “God-inspired.” Yet,
while this perspective is certainly out of step with current historical and psychological
sensibilities, it did not arise in a vacuum. To further explore how the “Great Man”
came to enter the world of historiography (historical methods), we must first examine
the etymology of the word “genius.”
From a historical perspective, the term “genius” is problematic: it has had a long
history of use, and has acquired multiple meanings over time, each describing vastly
different phenomena. It is not uncommon to see genius referring to eminence (e.g.,
Galton, 1865, 1869/1892), giftedness (e.g., Terman, 1916, 1925), or the character
or zeitgeist of a time period or geographical region (e.g., Alaya, 1977).
The first known instance of the term genius being used is during the Roman Empire,
where it referred to a male spiritual protector or guardian spirit (Murray, 1989;
Simonton, 2009a). Typically, the protection offered by a genius was applied to indi-
viduals, families, and physical spaces. Every person, family, city, body of water, or other
important physical structure had its own genius. In addition, a genius could also refer
to the character of a society, and the “spirit of the times” or zeitgeist.
Over time, genius began to be more intimately connected with individuals, and
ultimately came to bear directly upon their personalities. However, it was not until the
Enlightenment when the connotations of the word took on its present implications:
genius referring to the superior or unique abilities of an individual person (Albert,
1969; Murray 1989; Simonton, 2009a). During the Enlightenment
a striking and fundamental change occurs in the meaning of the word: up till this time,
genius as personal, protective spirit had been something every man possessed, now genius
as an extraordinary creative power becomes the prerogative of a highly selected and priv-
ileged few. (Murray, 1989, p. 3)
However, despite this shift, the older connotations had not yet faded away. Samuel
Johnson’s (1755) A Dictionary of the English Language reflects this transition, where
he provides the following definitions of genius: (1) the protecting or ruling power of
men, places, or things; (2) a man endowed with superior faculties; (3) mental power
or faculties; (4) disposition of nature by which any one is qualified for some peculiar
employment; and (5) nature, disposition. Clearly, only the first definition is consistent
with the original Roman meaning. This is probably because another similar word had
also been transported from Latin into the English language – ingenium.
Ingenium referred to both a natural disposition and an innate ability. It is a qual-
ity that cannot be developed through time and education, and only a rare few are
lucky enough to be born with this kind of talent (Murray, 1989). When translated
into English,1 ingenium became genius as well, therefore adding to the complex-
ity of the original definition. As a result, the original spiritually linked term sur-
vived and became entangled with the notion of natural ability (Derrida, 2003/2006;
The Genius in History: Historiographic Explorations 5
Murray, 1989). This way of thinking about genius remained popular throughout the
Looking at Carlyle’s work through this lens, his vision of history as hero-worship
was completely commensurate with academic thinking at the time: talent was linked to
divine inspiration. Even though the hero differed from the genius – the former seen in
myth, religion, politics, and the military, and the latter in the arts and sciences – both
were to be celebrated for their divine gifts. In this way, Carlyle was able to advance a
unique perspective on history that was driven by the divinely inspired genius and the
mythical hero, forming a historiographic approach that is expressly a celebration of
these “Great Men.”
History and the Psychology of Genius
Two decades after Carlyle’s famous lectures on heroes and hero-worship, Darwin’s
(1859) On the Origin of Species was published. Not only did this classic text come
to revolutionize the study of biology, but also it transformed the then-burgeoning
discipline of psychology. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, was a devout follower2 of
this new theory of evolution, and sought to apply it to his own interests.
Galton was interested in what drives greatness, and he posited that “natural ability” –
a trait that would be similar to intelligence – was at its root. However, as a working
test for intelligence had yet to be developed, he turned to the next best thing: histor-
ical records. Through kinship studies of eminent individuals, Galton believed that the
hereditary nature of natural ability could be inferred (Galton, 1865, 1869/1892).
In Hereditary Genius (1869/1892), Galton presented a kinship study of eminent
judges, military commanders, scientists, poets, and oarsmen, among others, which did
indeed show a correlation among family members: Where one individual in a family
was considered to be an eminent contributor to society, successive generations of men
often followed in a similar trajectory. He therefore concluded that ability is hereditary.
Galton further expressed the belief that certain psychological factors, such as persis-
tence, were essential to the expression of one’s natural ability; however, social and
other environmental factors had little bearing. He said, “If a man is gifted with vast
intellectual ability, eagerness to work, and power of working, I cannot comprehend
how such a man should be repressed” (1869/1892, p. 39). In essence, geniuses are
born, not made; nature, not nurture.
Galton’s approach has been very influential in the psychology of genius literature.
Besides defining one of the primary narratives – “genius” as a hereditary quality
that can be identified, measured, and predicted, he also began to move the under-
standing of genius as something “Other” and divine towards an understanding of
genius as the product of positive evolutionary forces (particularly sexual selection).
However, Galton’s work was also important because he was the first to use histor-
ical data to argue his thesis. While Galton belongs to the Carlyle’s “Great Man”
school, their approaches differed drastically. Carlyle’s approach used genius to shape
the telling of history, while Galton’s used history to shape the science and psychology
However, some authors at the time took issue with Carlyle’s and Galton’s main
premises – that eminent individuals are worthy of study, and that they are the primary
mechanism that drives society forward. Herbert Spencer, who is widely considered
6 Laura C. Ball
to be the cofounder of Social Darwinism along with Galton, did not ascribe to the
“Great Man” school of thought. Spencer said:
The genesis of societies by the action of great men may be comfortably believed so long
as, resting in general notions, you do not ask for particulars. But now, if, dissatisfied with
vagueness, we demand that our ideas shall be brought into focus and exactly defined, we
discover the hypothesis to be utterly incoherent. (1878/1921, pp. 29–30)
Spencer believed that the thesis inherent in Carlyle’s and Galton’s work was fatally
flawed. The psychological characteristics, achievements, and life histories of eminent
individuals do not provide a thorough explanation of discovery and social evolution.
The historian, John Fiske – one of Spencer’s disciples – elaborated on this point:
History is something more than biography. Without the least disrespect to the memories
of the great statesmen of Greece and Rome, it may safely be said that one might learn all of
Plutarch’s Lives by heart, and still have made very little progress toward comprehending
the reasons why the Greek states were never able to form a coherent political aggregate,
or why the establishment of despotism at Rome was involved in the conquest of the
Mediterranean world. The true way to approach such historical problems as these is not
to speculate about the personal characteristics of Lysander or C. Gracchus, but to consider
the popular assemblies of the Greeks and Romans. (1881, p. 81)
Therefore, in order to understand greatness, we need to go beyond Carlyle’s Great
Man histories, and we also need to dispense with Galton’s inherited characteristics the-
sis. The key to genius is not within the individual, but within society itself. As Spencer
said, “Before he can re-make his society, his society must make him” (1878/1921,
p. 31). From this perspective, genius is made, not born; nurture, rather than nature.
In this way, the Spencerian school uses the existence of genius as a signpost to point
to interesting political, social, and cultural trends. As in the Carlylian tradition, the
genius shapes history, but instead of exploring individual life histories (as in the
Carlylian tradition), or psychological characteristics (in the Galtonian tradition),
genius is used to explore social histories.
During this debate between Social Darwinists, a third perspective on the relation-
ship between genius and history began to emerge in American psychology. James
Mark Baldwin (1913/2001) argued for a midway point between the Galtonian and
Spencerian positions. Building on evolutionary theory, genius could be thought of
as a variation3 from the mean – the “average man.” While this premise is shared by
Galton, Baldwin explicitly cautioned against understanding genius to be a product of
variations in natural ability. Rather, genius should be thought of as the expression of
good judgment and social fit. An individual may create works of art or scholarship,
but if they have bad judgment and select the wrong ideas to bring to fruition, they
will never be labeled as a genius – and depending on the nature of those ideas, they
may even be labeled “mad” or “bad” instead. For example, Caligula may have become
the Emperor of Rome, but he clearly selected the wrong ideas to bring to fruition.
Historians depict him as a cruel tyrant, whose rule was ended by assassination. In the
end, he is remembered as both mad and bad. On the other hand, if an individual were
able to apply good judgment to the selection of ideas, then they may have a chance at
The Genius in History: Historiographic Explorations 7
becoming a genius. Of course, whether an idea is truly “good” is a matter of social fit,
and they will only be remembered as a genius if society recognizes the value in their
work. In this way, Baldwin’s work represents a midpoint between Galton’s psycholog-
ical, nativist approach, and Spencer’s sociogenic approach; it straddles the nature and
Baldwin’s work marks an interesting turn in the relationship between genius, his-
tory, and psychology. First, where Baldwin’s work concerns the relationship between
genius and history, “social fit” can be used to explain fluctuations in the use of “genius”
as an appellation to describe a particular individual over time. For example, Anto-
nio Salieri was a well-respected and widely sought-after composer in his time. He
also taught many other great composers including Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, and
Ludwig van Beethoven. However, now his work is rarely considered to be of the caliber
of his students’, and the label of genius is instead given to one of his contemporaries –
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Second, where Baldwin’s work concerns the relationship between history and the
psychology of genius, the focus on normal variation in ability continues to uphold the
understanding that genius is not divine. Baldwin said,
To know that the greatest men of earth are men who think as I do, but deeper, and see
the real as I do, but clearer, who work the goal that I do, but faster, and serve humanity
as I do, but better, – that may be an incitement to my humility, but it is also an inspiration
in my life. (1913/2001, p. 177)
Here, histories of genius serve Galton’s project in that they are a way to better under-
stand human development and ability. Baldwin’s quote also hints at the role that stories
such as these have in providing guidance, inspiration, and a sense of affiliation in oth-
ers (see also Hong & Lin-Siegler, 2012; S¨oderqvist, 1996). This will be expanded on
in greater detail below. And yet, despite the importance that Baldwin places on indi-
vidual variation in ability and judgment, he simultaneously stresses the role of social
fit as the mechanism for social evolution. Furthermore, the potential for talent that
resides within the individual is the result of population-level variations, but that poten-
tial can only be realized in the context of education and other positive environmental
pressures (cf. organic selection, and the “Baldwin Effect”; Burman, in press; Wozniak,
2009). In other words, genius is both born and made.
The relationship between genius, psychology, and history continues to be informed
by the theories espoused by Carlyle, Galton, Spencer, and Baldwin. For example, in his
contribution to the psychology of genius literature, Howard Gardner (1997) adopted
the Carlylian “Great Man” approach in order to develop and illustrate his theory
of extraordinariness. However, the Great Man style of historiography also informs
notable histories of psychology, such as A History of Experimental Psychology (Boring,
1929), History of Psychology in Autobiography (Murchison, 1961), Great Psychologists
(Watson, 1963), and Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology (Kimble & Wertheimer, 1998),
among many others (see Ball, 2012). On the other hand, while Galton’s and Spencer’s
views have little traction with modern psychologists, falling too far to either side of the
nature versus nurture debate, they still frame discussions on the topic (see Simonton,
2009a). The moderate position held by Baldwin seems to adequately characterize the
psychology of genius literature today. Admittedly, some do fall more on the side of
8 Laura C. Ball
nature (e.g., Simonton, 1999a, 2008), and some more on the side of nurture (e.g.,
Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-R¨omer, 1993; Howe, 1999). Yet each presents a slightly
more nuanced and complex picture of how genius emerges.
The Psychology of Genius: Theory Across History
Given the complexity of the genius literature, it can be difficult to paint a complete
picture of the philosophical and theoretical narratives that inform our understanding
of the psychology of genius. The following is a system for understanding the liter-
ature, which is based on three psychological and one statistical construct: (1) cre-
ativity; (2) madness; (3) intelligence; and (4) eminence. Of course, this is an overly
simplistic and imperfect categorization, as many contributors to the psychology of
genius literature have blended interests (e.g., Andreasen, 1987, 2005; Eysenck, 1995;
Jamison, 1989, 1993; J. C. Kaufman, 2001; S. B. Kaufman, Christopher & J. C.
Kaufman, 2008). Therefore, for ease of explanation in this context, I have included
their contributions in the category to which they seem to have awarded the most
The creative genius
Creativity has had the longest tradition of research with respect to its relationship
to genius, and is consequently one of the most well-known themes. The theoretical
tradition of the creative genius theory dates back to the Enlightenment, and Immanuel
Kant’s (1790/2000) rational aesthetics. While Kant, and other proponents of this
tradition (e.g., J. C. Kaufman, 2001; S. B. Kaufman, Christopher & J. C. Kaufman,
2008), may disagree on whether genius is expressed in the arts alone, or both the arts
and sciences together, they do agree on several points. There is a strong consensus
that the creativity of a genius is innate and cannot be learned. Furthermore, they
tend to emphasize that this creativity is, to some extent, outside the control of the
genius. This notion continues to propagate the spiritual undertones to the term, as
well as the idea of spontaneous creation for works of genius. It also explains why many
of these authors also emphasize the link between creativity and madness; perhaps it is
the sheer uncontrollable force of their creativity (and all that is associated with it, e.g.,
social exclusion) that drives them mad sooner or later. Examples of this type of genius
are often drawn from the arts: music (e.g., Mozart), art (e.g., Pablo Picasso), dance
(e.g., Mikhail Baryshnikov), poetry (e.g., Emily Dickinson), literature (e.g., William
Shakespeare), and film (Steven Spielberg).
The mad genius
The second most prevalent theory is what is sometimes known as the “mad genius
syndrome” (Simonton, 1999a). Proponents of this position (e.g., Andreasen, 1987,
2005; Jamison, 1989, 1993; Kretschmer, 1929/1970; Lombroso, 1889/1905) hold
that there is a strong correlation between genius and insanity, madness, or mental
illness. This categorization covers different sides of the “dark side” of genius: the
“good” genius who struggles with mental illness and/or substance abuse, and the
The Genius in History: Historiographic Explorations 9
“evil” genius who performs acts so terrible that they could not possibly be sane. While
the proponents of this position have not achieved a consensus as to whether or not
there is a biological basis to genius, they do tend to share a disbelief in the eugenicist
notion that breeding geniuses would be beneficial for humanity (see Galton, 1865,
1869/1892; Terman, 1925). While the mad genius may produce some benefits for
humanity, overall their presence is thought to be problematic, and could in some cases
pose more of threat than any great good. Similarly to the “creative genius” literature,
examples of the “good” mad genius are often drawn from the arts: music (e.g., Kurt
Cobain), art (e.g., Vincent Van Gogh), dance (e.g., Isadora Duncan), poetry (e.g.,
Edgar Allan Poe), literature (e.g., Virginia Woolf), and film (e.g., Marilyn Monroe).
On occasion, however, there are examples to be found in the sciences (e.g., John
Nash). Examples of the “evil” genius are almost exclusively drawn from the monarchy,
political, and military leaders (e.g., Vlad III, known as Vlad the Impaler) or criminal
activities (e.g., Jack the Ripper).
The intelligent genius
The third type, the intelligent genius, has not enjoyed quite as long a tradition as
the previous two categories. In the early 20th century, it managed to gain consider-
able ground in the psychological literature, mainly through Lewis M. Terman’s work
(1916, 1925; see also Cox, 1926; Hollingworth, 1926, 1942; Miles & Wolfe, 1936).
However, as Robert S. Albert (1969) has noted, the use of the term “genius” was
gradually phased out and replaced with the notion of “giftedness” by the mid-20th
century. Therefore, taken from this perspective, giftedness research (especially longi-
tudinal studies) can also be thought of as part of the larger lineage of research on the
psychology of genius.
The philosophical roots of the intelligent genius tradition date back to the German
Romantic philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1883/1964), in The World as Will and
Idea. However, this stream of thought remained fairly isolated in philosophy. Rather,
it was the psychometric and historiometric traditions that began in England with
Galton (1865, 1869/1892) that got taken up by psychology proper. Unfortunately
for proponents of the intelligent genius theories, however, there is little similarity
between them. They are divided on the issues of sociohistorical influence, how genius
may be recognized, and what intelligence is at the most basic level (see, for example,
Gardner, 1997; Terman, 1925). However, there are two distinct points of conver-
gence beyond their primary focus on intelligence: They all acknowledge that genius
is an innate gift that cannot be taught; and genius is, to some extent, a hereditary
quality. Examples of intelligent geniuses are, unsurprisingly, most often drawn from
the sciences (e.g., Albert Einstein), and more recently developers of technology (e.g.,
Steve Jobs) and business (e.g., Warren Buffett).
The eminent genius
The final type is the eminent genius, which is most clearly evident in the works of
Albert (1975), Castle (1913), and Cattell (1903, 1906, 1910). While most of the
authors espousing this position believed that eminence is not sufficient for defining
genius in and of itself, they did believe that one had to become eminent before being
10 Laura C. Ball
considered a genius, and that this step was the most crucial element. Albert (1975)
produced an often-cited definition of genius that is based on this notion:
A person of genius is anyone who, regardless of other characteristics he may possess or
have attributed to him, 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, as
well as the individual in question, to come to terms with a different set of attitudes, ideas,
viewpoints, or techniques. (p. 144)
From this perspective, it almost does not matter whether someone has become known
as a genius because of their outstanding creativity, intelligence, or even madness –
they must all be recognized as genius first. Therefore, fame, celebrity, notoriety, or
eminence is a prerequisite for genius; it is a necessary condition. Examples of people
who are eminent geniuses may come from any domain, as recognition is the only
precondition. However, there are those who could be said to have become eminent
who may not have been otherwise if it were not for birth right (e.g., Henry VIII),
marriage (e.g., Anne Boleyn), celebrity (e.g., Paris Hilton) or other factors external
to the person, such as being victims of, or surviving, a tragedy (e.g., Margaret Brown,
known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”).
The Psychology of Genius: Historical Methods
Theoretical orientation and explanation are not the only axes upon which the history
of the psychology of genius literature can be explored; methodology has always been a
defining feature of psychological explanation. As with the broader field of psychology,
the psychology of genius literature is dominated by two styles of analysis: quantitative
and qualitative. It should be noted that what follows is, of necessity, a brief account
of the different methods used to study genius. For a more complete discussion, refer
to Simonton’s (1990, 1999b, 2009b) writings.
In general, the quantitative approaches to the psychology of genius pay homage to
Galton, who first brought nomothetic and statistical reasoning to bear on the psy-
chological study of genius. However, contemporary methods can most clearly be seen
in Lewis M. Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius project, where there is a definable
research study design (longitudinal), the use of psychometric assessments (e.g., the
Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales; Terman, 1925), and the use of what has come to
be known as historiometry (Cox, 1926).
Psychometrics Psychometric studies of genius are relatively rare, simply because rec-
ognized geniuses are in short supply – most have long since passed away and fall into
the category of “historical subjects” rather than “research participants.” That said,
there are some longitudinal studies of gifted students and cross-sectional assessments
of talented adults that have contributed to the psychology of genius literature (e.g.,
Helson & Crutchfield, 1970; Lubinski, Webb, Morelock, & Benbow, 2001). Given
that this method does not typically make use of historical data, a discussion of this topic
more properly belongs in the “science of genius.” Therefore, I will simply outline the
The Genius in History: Historiographic Explorations 11
early development of this method in the psychology of genius literature, rather than
its more modern usage.
Galton was a pioneer in the psychometric approach to the study of genius. His
anthropometric laboratory allowed him to conduct large-scale assessments of individ-
ual differences on factors such as reaction times, sensory acuity, height, weight, finger
prints, and so on (Fancher, 1985; Simonton, 2009a). His work, published in Inquiries
into Human Faculty and its Development (1883), inspired James McKeen Cattell to
undertake similar assessments (Fancher, 1985). However, it was through the work of
one of his graduate students – Clark Wissler – that Galton’s (and Cattell’s) methods
were eventually found to be ineffective (Wissler, 1901).
In 1925, Terman published the first volume of a book series chronicling a large-
scale longitudinal study of gifted children. Each participant, identified as gifted using
the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales (see Terman, 1916), was followed through-
out their lives by the Stanford research team. During that time, the participants and
their families were asked to complete a large number of psychometric assessments,
including personality tests, and assessments of their mental and physical health. Many
demographic details (e.g., marital status) were also tracked. While the Genetic Studies
of Genius project was in its infancy, another psychologist – Leta S. Hollingworth – was
also doing studies of gifted children (1926, 1942). Both of these studies have con-
tributed greatly to the psychology of genius literature, as well as to our understanding
of gifted children and adults.
Historiometrics This is by far the most often used quantitative approach to studying
the psychology of genius. Historiometry is the “scientific discipline in which nomo-
thetic hypotheses about human behavior are tested by applying quantitative analyses to
data concerning historical individuals” (Simonton, 1990, p. 3). Historiometric stud-
ies typically draw from at least one of four potential sources: (1) personality sketches;
(2) developmental histories; (3) content analyses; and (4) expert surveys (Simonton,
2009b). Overall, this is a statistical approach to the presentation of historical argu-
ments that has resonated with psychologists (and social historians).
Within the genius literature, Galton’s (1869) article “Hereditary Talent and
Character” was the first foray into a statistical understanding of eminence, which
was further developed in his book Hereditary Genius (1869/1892). In these publica-
tions, where Galton attempted to determine if natural ability was an inherited quality,
he looked at how many eminent individuals had family who were also eminent in
their time. He also tracked the degree of the relationship, whether they were first
relations (e.g., parent–child, siblings), second relations (grandparent–child, uncle–
nephew, cousins), and so on. This kinship, or pedigree, method of analysis not only
influenced later historiometric studies, but also came to contribute to the development
of behavioral genetics.4
Following on the heels of these publications, Cattell published a series of articles
where he further developed Galton’s methodology (Cattell, 1903, 1906, 1910). He
quantified “eminence” by developing a list of the 1000 individuals who occupied the
most space across a number of encyclopedias and other reference works. One of his
students, Cora Sutton Castle, also adopted this methodology to do a study of eminent
women (Castle, 1913). Havelock Ellis (1904) further refined the method by exam-
ining biographical characteristics of eminent individuals, such as birth order, class,
marital status, and other demographic factors.
12 Laura C. Ball
The first psychologist to use the term “historiometry” in their study was Catharine
Cox (1926). For her dissertation, under the direction of Terman, Cox examined
biographies and archival documents of noted geniuses, such as Galton and John
Stuart Mill. She used this information to generate IQ scores, and then ranked her
eminent historical subjects by that criterion. This is notable because it was the first
attempt to generate a relative ranking of eminent individuals based on psycholog-
ical characteristics thought to relate to genius, rather than by relative eminence
(Cattell’s methodology), which could be influenced by popularity/celebrity, salacious
stories/notoriety/infamy (e.g., sexual exploits, criminal activities), or social position
(e.g., monarch, president; see also Terman, 1940). Later, as Catharine Cox Miles, she
published a further study that compared her IQ estimates to estimates of mental and
physical health (Miles & Wolfe, 1936). Miles’s work has probably had the biggest
influence on current historiometrics, most notably those done by Dean Keith Simon-
ton (e.g., Simonton, 1984, 1994, 2002).5
Other approaches A new form of historical scholarship is emerging, which may pro-
vide new and fresh insights on the psychology of genius. The notion of a “factory” was
first used by Daniel P. Todes (1997, 2002) to describe the way in which Ivan Pavlov
was able to produce large quantities of scholarly writings on his classical condition-
ing studies. Recently, this approach has been adapted by Jeremy T. Burman and me
(Ball, 2012; Burman, 2012; Burman & Ball, 2011, 2012). A “psychological factory”
is defined as any author who is able to publish 10 or more publications for at least two
consecutive years. Using this search and selection criterion in PsycNET, we were able
to develop a list of “factories” operating in (predominately North American) psychol-
ogy. By applying this method, we are able to ask new questions of history, such as: what
is effective leadership and mentoring in psychology; and what kind of departments fos-
ter excellent publication records? This method does not look to data and statistics to
provide answers, as it would with traditional historiometric approaches to productivity
and eminence in psychology (e.g., Simonton, 2000, 2002, 2005). Rather, it uses the
data to open up new questions and new avenues of historical critique and explanation.
It therefore acts as a bridge between the quantitative and qualitative approaches.
In general, qualitative approaches to the psychology of genius pay homage to the
Carlylian tradition. While many authors who write in this style are not “hero-
worshippers,” and may even be critical in their orientation, their methods nonetheless
derive from Carlyle’s lineage.
Biography The varieties of biography make up by far the largest amount of qualitative
work produced on the psychology of genius. Frequently, popular biographies are writ-
ten about recognized geniuses (e.g., Gleick, 2003; Goldsmith, 2005; Kanigel, 1991)
to be consumed by academic and general audiences alike. However, academic authors
also produce biographies of eminent individuals and geniuses. Some are strictly tra-
ditional narratives concerning an individual or group of individuals (e.g., Dewsbury,
Benjamin, & Wertheimer, 2006; Forrest, 1974; Minton, 1988), whereas others are
used to present a historical argument (e.g., Fancher, 1985; Gould, 1996; Ruther-
ford, Vaughn-Blount, & Ball, 2010). While the former run the risk of being akin to
The Genius in History: Historiographic Explorations 13
“hero-worship,” and are often deemed celebratory in nature, the latter often have a
more critical focus.
Interestingly, there are biographies of both a celebratory and critical nature that aim
to provide insight into the psychology of genius, or the study of genius. For example,
Albert (1998) used the life stories of G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan – both
mathematicians – to illustrate the differences between giftedness, talent, and genius. In
addition, Gardner (1997) has used biographies to illustrate his theory of extraordinar-
iness, featuring the lives of Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Woolf, and Mahatma Gandhi. On
the other side of the coin, Geoffrey Cantor (1996) has borrowed Michael Faraday’s
life story in order to illustrate how biographies cast scientists in the role of “hero,”
while Peter Hegarty (2007) has shown the gendered and gender-conformist nature
of Terman’s theory of genius through an exploration of Terman’s life experiences.
There is yet another variety of biography – psychobiography – that has been used to
explore the nature of genius. Psychobiography combines biographical narratives with
psychoanalysis in order to say something new about the historical subject. An excellent
example of this is Erik Erikson’s (1958) case study of Martin Luther. Raymond E.
Fancher (1983, 1998) has also written extensively on Galton’s life and work using
various psychobiographical approaches. All of these strategies come together to give
the reader a compelling and innovative look at the nature of genius, historical geniuses,
and those who study them.
Other techniques There are relatively few authors who have moved beyond biog-
raphy and psychobiography as tools to explore the psychology of genius. However,
participant interviews have been used by Nancy C. Andreasen (1987) to explore the
prevalence of mental illness among creative writers. Similarly, Mihaly Csikszentmiha-
lyi (1996) interviewed eminent creators across the arts, humanities, sciences, applied
sciences, and politics in order to derive a theory of creativity and creative individ-
uals. Using a slightly different approach, Kay R. Jamison (1989) used open-ended
questionnaires in order to elucidate responses from writers and poets describing their
struggles with mental illness. In all of these cases, not every participant may have been
a “genius,” but they were certainly all eminent creators – some were even Nobel Prize
winners. These alternative strategies help present an autobiographical voice that is
rarely heard in the psychology of genius literature.
The Genius in History
Obviously, there are a wide variety of approaches to studying the psychology of genius.
But how do these methods impact our perception of geniuses? What qualities, charac-
teristics, and stories do they lead us to privilege in our scholarship? Here I will discuss
not the relationship between the genius and history, but the relationship between the
author and their eminent historical subject(s).
Writing history is a continual process of engagement and reconstruction. One his-
torian – Mary Terrall (2006) – said this of writing biographies in particular,
A biography, a written life, in some manner brings back to life someone from the past,
known to the present only through the material traces left behind, in archives, in attics,
in print. Though historians do not tend to think they are in the business of resurrection,
biographers do share something with novelists in this manner of bringing characters to
life, or back to life. (p. 306)
14 Laura C. Ball
This allusion to writing fiction is intentional; Terrall argues that biographers engage
in many of the same processes as novelists and use many of the same techniques, but
unlike the novelist, their stories are bound by empirical, material evidence. And yet,
biographies (and other histories) are a form of story-telling: We choose the narrative
we put forward. But why do we choose the narratives we espouse?
Daston and Sibum (2003) have suggested that people unknowingly adopt the “per-
sona” – the explicit and implicit cultural values – of their discipline.6 The “scientific
persona” is a role or identity that a scientist implicitly strives to emulate (see also
Bordogna, 2005). Elsewhere, I have suggested that perhaps it is those individuals who
most closely emulate the values of the discipline who become recognized as geniuses
(Ball, 2012). Similarly, it is possible that biographers reconstruct their historical sub-
jects in light of these personae; “genius” has its own persona (creativity, intelligence,
madness), and biographers privilege evidence that fits with these narratives. Cantor
(1996), when writing his biography of Michael Faraday, noted that other biographers
had constructed different “Faradays” to fit the narrative they were trying to tell:
Closer inspection of the literature shows that these “Faradays” fulfilled many different
and contradictory functions. Thus, for some authors, he became the great discoverer
of nature’s secrets, while for others he was the Christian philosopher par excellence, or
the leading public lecturer, or the scientist with refined sensibilities – to mention but a
few. These portrayals of Faraday – or more exactly these “Faradays” – embody complex
cultural values and meanings. They posit the nature of science, its aims and methods, and
also the ideals for which the scientist should strive. (p. 172)
In all of these stories, however, the scientist (in this case Faraday) is cast in the role
of hero to academic and popular audiences. These narratives serve important func-
tions, including inspiration to potential and current scientists (Cantor, 1996; Hong &
Lin-Siegler, 2012; S¨oderqvist, 1996; see also earlier quote from Baldwin,
1913/2001). However, they also have an impact on how we understand the psy-
chology of genius. These biographies form an important source of information for
any methodological approach, whether quantitative or qualitative. They introduce an
important limitation on how we are able to understand the psychology of genius.
The Construal-Level Theory of psychological distance (Liberman & Trope, 2008;
Trope and Liberman, 2010) suggested yet another limitation: Perceived psychological
distance has an effect on the inferences we make. The more psychologically distant we
perceive an “Other” to be, the more likely we are to process their actions in terms
of high-level personal qualities and characteristics. For those whom we perceive to
be psychologically close to us, we tend to explain their behavior in highly situational
and contextualized terms (e.g., “I studied hard, and that’s why I got an ‘A’ on the
test”). For those that we perceive to be psychologically distant, we attribute their
behavior to stable personality factors (e.g., “she got a 100% on that exam. She must
be a genius!”). This is similar to the false attribution bias for in-groups versus out-
groups: The psychologically distant “Other” is akin to the out-group.
In the case of our eminent historical subjects, we see them as psychologically dis-
tant on at least two levels: time and behavior. Often, these individuals are not our
contemporaries in a given field, providing perceived distance over time. And there is
a perceived distance in their behaviors – they have produced extremely original, cre-
ative, and highly valued works, and their other behaviors may be erratic, reflecting a
The Genius in History: Historiographic Explorations 15
mental illness or substance-abuse problem. Because of this, we may see their behaviors
as more intentional, directed, and indicative of underlying motivations and psycho-
logical attributes. In essence, we see them as “performing” genius (cf. Butler, 1990).
This “performance” then becomes the focus of the historical narrative.
Recently, Simonton (2012) examined the biographies and other historical works
surrounding Galileo and his discoveries. Typically, biographers portray Galileo’s find-
ings as purposeful, the product of foresight, intuition, and unusual insight. However,
upon closer examination, Simonton found that this was not strictly speaking the case.
Galileo had successes as well as failures along the way to his discoveries, but it is his
successes that are continuously highlighted by his biographers. To the contrary, the
path to Galileo’s discoveries was not linear and purposeful. Often, he wandered the
path blind and found inspiration in his artistic endeavours. Mario Biagioli (1993) has
also written about the extent to which Galileo’s patronage networks influenced his
work. Not only did they provide him with necessary funds, but they also provided
him with scientific credibility. Much like Cantor (1996) found in his examination of
Faraday’s biographies, the traditional image of Galileo has come to represent the sci-
entific ideal of objective, independent, empirical observation. He is cast as a scientific
hero. Galileo’s failures, the inspiration he found in the arts, and his need for wealthy
patrons are often absent in his biographies.
This case study highlights the effects of psychological distance, and the scientific
persona at work in the biography of genius. Genius is constructed and reconstructed
through biographical and other historical narratives. In the process, new life and mean-
ing are given to the historical subject. This constructed representation of the genius
through biography then comes to inform other approaches to the psychological study
of genius, feeding historiometric, and psychobiographic research. In this way, the his-
torian creates the narrative upon which the psychology of genius is based, thereby
revealing the genius in history.
1 This is also true in French (see Derrida 2003/2006).
2 The choice in wording (“devout follower”) is intentional. Galton was an Anglican and a
committed member of the Church of England prior to Origin’s publication. However, after
reading Darwin’s manuscript, he suffered a crisis of faith. Fancher (2009) has argued that
Galton responded by replacing one faith and set of beliefs with another, turning to the
theory of evolution with religious fervor and devotion.
3 This reference to “variation” should not be interpreted as “genetic variation.” Baldwin is
writing in a pre-Mendelian time, and therefore without our current understanding of genes
and genetics. By “variation’, he is referring to the original Darwinian meaning: within a
niche, species vary. These variations drive natural selection. Baldwin also seems to be refer-
ring to the idea of the “normal curve,” which is rooted in Galton’s work (who drew inspi-
ration from Quetelet).
4 Especially through two publications following his work on genius where he developed an
early version of twin study methodology (Galton, 1876, 1883; see Teo & Ball, 2009).
5 Simonton and Song (2009) conducted a secondary analysis of the Miles and Wolfe (1936)
data using the same materials, gleaned from the archives at Akron and Stanford. Interest-
ingly, they found slightly different results.
6 This is akin to Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgical model.
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