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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Psychiatrist sheds new light on Darwin's 'extraordinary creativity'

Embargoed until 18 February 2009

As the UK marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, a psychiatrist sheds new light on Darwin’s life and extraordinary creativity.

Professor Michael Fitzgerald, of Dublin’s Trinity College, will speak today at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Academic Psychiatry about the link between creativity and psychiatric disorders.

Professor Fitzgerald believes Darwin had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism where people have difficulties with social communication and interaction. He says: “It is suggested that the same genes that produce autism and Asperger’s syndrome are also responsible for great creativity and originality.

“Asperger’s syndrome gave Darwin the capacity to hyperfocus, the extra capacity for persistence, the enormous ability to see detail that other people missed, the endless energy for a lifetime dedication to a narrow task, and the independence of mind so critical to original research.”

According to Professor Fitzgerald, Darwin was a solitary child – as many people with Asperger’s syndrome are. His emotional immaturity and fear of intimacy extended to adulthood. He avoided socialising and took long solitary walks, walking the same route daily. He was a compulsive letter writer, but these were almost devoid of social chat.

Darwin was a great collector. As a child he hoarded insects and shells, and while at university he became obsessed with chemistry and gadgets. Professor Fitzgerald says: “Darwin had a massive capacity to observe, to introspect and to analyse. From adolescence he was a massive systematiser, initially of insects and other specimens which he catalogued. He had a tremendously visual brain. He spent eight years studying barnacles, and wrote books on his observations of earthworms and even his own children. He was a rather obsessive-compulsive and ritualistic man.”

Professor Fitzgerald concludes: “Creativity is extremely complex, and so far no theory or model of brain function has been able to explain it fully. But I hope that future progress in understanding the basis of autism may lead to a better understanding of autistic creativity and creativity in general.”


For further information, please contact:
Kathy Oxtoby or Deborah Hart in the Communications Department.

Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 0203 701 2538

 

References:

Annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Academic Psychiatry, Cardiff, 18-19 February 2009

 

Note to editors:

Lyons V and Fitzgerald M (2005) Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or a Curse? Nova Biomedical: New York

 

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