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Einstein, Newton, and Asperger Syndrome

Did both men have the disorder?

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Updated October 17, 2005

Researchers believe both Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton may have had Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder in the autism spectrum. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, and Ioan James, of Oxford University, studied the behavior of both famous scientists. The researchers felt Einstein and Newton displayed personality traits characteristic of Asperger syndrome.

Asperger a recent diagnosis
Although the behaviors known as Asperger syndrome were first described in the 1940s, the diagnosis was not officially recognized until 1994. Since Einstein and Newton lived before then, it is difficult to come to a definitive answer, since neither can be questioned or examined now.

What the researchers noted in biographical information about both men were behaviors seen with Asperger syndrome, such as:

  • limited but intense range of interests, especially specific intellectual areas
  • difficulty in social relationships, especially responding appropriately to others
  • problems communicating, such as difficulty making conversation or understanding others

The researchers pointed out that Einstein was a loner as a child and often repeated sentences obsessively until he was seven years old. His career was centered on complex mathematical topics. He gave very confusing lectures.

As for Newton, the researchers noted that he hardly spoke, had few friends and was often bad-tempered around them. He often became so engrossed in his work (the science of physics) that he forgot to eat. He always gave his scheduled lectures, even if no one came.

Others not convinced
Others feel that the case is weak for the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome for either scientist. "One can imagine geniuses who are socially inept and yet not remotely autistic," said Dr. Glen Elliott, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco, in an interview published by BBC News. Without Einstein or Newton here to ask, it's difficult to be certain.

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