Family Background and Genius

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Family Background and Genius

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Title: Family Background and Genius
Author: Rothenberg, Albert; Wyshak, Grace

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Citation: Rotherberg, Albert and Grace Wyshak. 2004. "Family Background and Genius." Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 49 (3): 185-191.
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Abstract: Objective: It is widely believed among professionals and laity that genius is born and not made. However, the early and still-influential statistical studies of Frances Galton on the inheritance of genius have neither been supported nor definitively refuted. This study empirically assesses the hereditary transmission hypothesis. Methods: We collected family background data on 50 Nobel Prize laureates in literature, 31 Booker Prize awardees, 135 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 20 National Book and National Book Critics Circle awardees. We compared these for incidence of occupational inheritance (that is, same parent–child occupations) with a matching group of 392 eminent persons in noncreative occupations; for predominant occupation type, we also compared subject data with data for 560 high-IQ nonprizewinners, as well as with general population occupational data. Results: Incidence of one or both parents in the same occupation was only 1% for literary prizewinners but 16% for eminent noncreative persons (P < 0.0001). The predominant (76%) family background constellation for prizewinners consisted of parent–child sex congruency either in applied-equivalent occupations requiring language, persuasion, or artisan skills (P < 0.0001, compared with control subjects) or in unrelated occupations with unfulfilled wishes for creative expression. Conclusions: Outstanding literary prizewinners do not manifest direct inheritance of creativity from their parents; instead, parents and children of the same sex are predominantly in applied-equivalent or performance occupations and have unfulfilled creative wishes. We suggest that early developmental influences on child motivation involve identification and competition with the parent of the same sex.
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