Why is that? Why are nerds unable to empathize with the people around them? Surprisingly, the answer may lie in their brains. As early as 1986, scientists began studying unsociability in nerds. A common trait that keeps popping up is Asperger’s. People with Asperger’s
“…often and unintentionally behave in what others experience as an irritating manner. They consistently invade others’ personal space, carry on about arcane topics, interrupt conversations, talk more loudly or softly than a situation dictates, or speak with an incorrect emphasis on words or word syllables in a sentence. Such a person might change the topic of a conversation abruptly, or gaze in a different direction from the person to whom he or she is speaking, exhibiting poor eye contact. These are the children who have few or no friends or the adults we might tire of at a cocktail party.” (Abele and Grenier)
Nugent, himself a sufferer of Asperger’s, describes it as a “…neurological condition whose outward manifestations, at their mildest, resemble [being] …nerdy.” And there are many shared traits between nerdiness and Asperger’s, like social phobias, rule-bound speech, spastic movements, and an intense focus on a particular subject, or set of subjects. Does this mean that every nerdy person has Asperger’s? No. But it does raise the question about similarities in the brains of the two.
Alison Hunter, a lecturer in the School of Computing and IT at Manukau Institute of Technology, was curious about the connection between Asperger’s and nerdiness, and she decided to take it a step further by adding personality exams. Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), she determined a “typical” personality file for a nerd, and then compared the results in behavior of all three categories. The typical profile was ISTJ or Introversion (“Inwardly oriented; Prefers solitary pursuits or small, known groups; Most comfortable with detailed knowledge based on concepts and ideas; Reflective.”)Sensing (“Perceives information through senses; Relies what is real or experienced; Practical Realistic, and Observant; Prefers factual, precise and concrete data; Best suited to practical, hands on approach, based on commonsense. Typified by a ‘specialist’”) Thinking (“Makes judgments objectively, dispassionately and analytically; Logical and consistent. Uses formal reasoning methods and ignores personal factors. Typified by a ‘scientist’.”) and Judgment (“Prefer orderly and controlled experiences; Rely on plans and orderly existence; Reluctant to deviate from goals set according to initial judgments; Decisive”).
When Hunter compared Asperger’s, nerdiness, and the ISTJ personality, she discovered many similarities. All showed a lack of desire to interact with others, poor communication skills, self-containment, diligence, interest in technical work, lack of empathy, fascination with technology, a dislike of change, and a love of order. The data is still being analyzed.