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Why geek geniuses may lack social graces

laborit There's a good reason for this. (483 comments)

Let's calm down here... I see a lot of people who seem to think that the only reason for this kind of research is either to trivialize the plight of the severely mentally ill, or to exaggerate the differences of every nonconformist until we can medicate them into a quivering load of docile, conformist pulp. But the basic issue isn't who to give what label, but the origins and mechanisms of both ordinary and abnormal behavior.

One of the great discoveries of modern psychology is that "healthy" and "pathological" behavior can fit on the same continuum. Someone who's afraid of dogs isn't necessarily diseased in a deep and pervasive fashion; zhe's showing an unsually maladaptive manifestation of normal learning principles. Similarly, we now recognize that schizophrenia (one of the most alien and easily "other-able" conditions) can show up in mild forms like schizotypal personality disorder, and even very faintly in people who are totally normal.

Autism is a very severe developmental disorder, differentiating sufferers from normals from a very early age and continuing throughout life. If it turns out that autistic behavior also occurs on a continuum, that would be a real bombshell: it would provide a new way of categorizing and studying "antisocial" behavior, and it would suggest new methods for socializing and teaching even the most autistic children.

The amazing abilities of rare autistic savants are well-known. If these turn out to share mechanisms with extraordinary abilities in significantly less disabled individuals, that could teach us a lot about helping both types of people to cultivate them, and about how thought works in general.

Yeah, maybe the angle of "explaining" geekiness is being overplayed - but there is solid, useful science here, even if the media ignore it.

- laborit

about 15 years ago

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