Posted by: Mathieu | August 28, 2008

Narrow escape for the NERD

Came across the following article on Psychology today: ‘Field Guide to The Nerd – It’s All Geek to Me’. Acknowledging the risk of ending up in making remarks on the level of ‘Nerdness’ of each of us, the type of brain we therefore have and consequently the level of masculinity / femininity some of use might show, the following remarks show a pretty narrow escape for the nerd from being formally categorised into the autism section:

What causes someone to develop the nerd personality? Biology is partially responsible for creating what Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen calls a “systematizing brain,” or “S-brain”—a brain good at figuring out logical rules. The opposite is an empathic brain; E-brains are good at divining what people are feeling, and people with E-brains develop sharper social skills. More men have S-brains than women, and more women have E-brains than men—though men and women both fall all over the spectrum.

People with autism, or its milder variant, Asperger’s syndrome, are biologically disposed to have extreme S-brains. Nerds stand squarely on the S-brain side of the spectrum, but not necessarily enough to have Asperger’s or autism. Some nerds have Asperger’s, but not all. Nerdiness and Asperger’s aren’t the same thing, but they have a lot in common.

“Nerd” is a vernacular label, not a scientific one, but it’s usually earned by a love for activities that are logical rather than sensual or physical—math, biology, or coding rather than cooking, ballet, or football. The leisure activities we associate with nerds—chess club, computer games, electronics projects in the garage—all depend on rational, systematic thinking, and tend not to involve emotionally nuanced conversation with other humans.

By the way is it now a fact that cooking or footbal has nothing to do with logic and therefore cannot be associated with words like rational and systematic?! That makes it a sad day for sports and the art of cooking or for those for whom this is new.



  1. Three comments:

    First, some trivia: Simon Baron-Cohen, the researcher that gets quoted in the article, is one of the leading psychologists working on autism and the brother of Ali G/Borat/Brüno actor Sasha Baron-Cohen.

    What I found most interesting in the article was the idea that “nerds can learn social skills if they approach them with the same intellectual rigor they bring to calculus”. The fact that geeks hack around even their own mental limitations, I think, gives you the best idea of just how pervasive thinking about everything in terms of hacking is for the hardcore geeks. And yes, Mathieu, that includes even cooking

    And third, in terms of helping you understand the nerd psychology, the article doesn’t hold a candle to this blog post from a while back

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