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Study of genius

Historically, the study of creativity began with study of genius. Scientific inquiry into the origins and nature of genius started in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The concept of genius was devoid of its mystical connotations; the difference between geniuses and others was understood as quantitative rather than qualitative, and its origin sought in biological factors such as heredity residing within the individual rather than in external supernatural sources.

The first who applied scientific methods to the study of genius and 'productive creators' was Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911). In his research of genius, Galton (1869, 1874) considered genius in terms of intellectual forces and assumed that people's intellectual activity depends on biological processes, the efficacy of which are genetically determined. To prove this hypothesis, he studied biographies of judges, politicians, noblemen, generals, admirals, authors, poets, scientists, musicians, painters, divines and athletes, many of whom held prominent positions in society. He concluded that people who attain eminence in their professions have a significantly greater proportion of eminent relatives than others do. It was the case of Galton himself; he came from a notable, rather inbred, family that included many eminent members with highly intellectual interests, his cousin Charles Darwin among them.

Galton believed that the ascent of a person with a high level of natural intellectual potential would not be deterred be social obstacles and that genius 'will out.' But he also recognized a certain role of external motivations helping geniuses to reach the fullest realization of their potential. He included in these factors capacity, zeal and the tendency to work hard. Galton devised various measures of intellectual functioning and widely relied upon the use statistical methods. Therefore, he is considered by right a founding father for both psychometricand historimetric approaches in creativity research. Although the later studies (e.g. Simonton 1984) have not supported Galton's thesis about heredity as the major factor underlying the determination of genius, his systematic method of studying eminent figures and the investigation of the correlations of creativity inspired further generations of researches.

In 1920s, Lewis Terman from Stanford University initiated a large programme intended to establish factors influencing creativity and eminence. In 1925 and 1926 the first two volumes of his five-volume Genetic studies of genius were published (Terman, 1925), which contained a detailed study of the development of over 1300 intellectually gifted children selected from over a quarter of million children. Like Galton, Terman was concerned by genetics factors but also considered effects of early experiences and personality characteristics. The subjects of studies were re-assessed in the following years (e.g. Terman and Oden, 1959) and thus the correlation between mental and physical traits in childhood and creative achievements in adulthood was revealed. The results showed that the index of giftedness and intelligence (IQ) remained relatively stable but no direct correlation between IQ and actual achievements was detected. Terman came to the conclusion that achievements in adulthood must be attributed to non-intellectual factors. This conclusion was supported by Terman's retrospective study of genius conducted under the direction of Catherine Cox (1926). The method of the study was based on the analysis of biographies of 301 famous historical figures that had made extraordinary contributions to their cultures. Cox found that the achievements of these "productive creators" were also based not so much on their IQ as on non-intellectual factors. She concluded that "youths who achieved eminence are characterized not only by high intellectual traits, but also by persistence of motive and effort, confidence in their abilities, and great strength of force of character" (Cox, 1926: 218).

Successive research of genius (Albert, 1983; Simonton, 1984, 1988, 1994, 1997, 1999; Davidson, 1986; Sternberg and Weisberg, 1986, 1993; Ochse; Eysenck, 1995; Miller, 1996; Bloom, 2002) used psychometric, historimetric and other methods to analyzed a broad range of factors influencing creative achievements and leadership. This resulted in understanding creativity as a complex construct determined by a variety of heterogeneous factors.

Study of genius. Dictionary of Creativity: Terms, Concepts, Theories & Findings in Creativity Research / Compiled and edited by Eugene Gorny., 2007.
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