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Are You a Genius? Depends on Your Gender
A new study from Cornell University shows how metaphors influence our ability to be impressed by genius and uncovers a gender hook – it seems we prefer to conceive of male genius as an exciting idea explosion, and female genius as a long, hard labor of hard work.
Genius is a hard concept to pin down. That’s why we have to talk about it using metaphors, like “light-bulb moments” and “the fruit of seeds planted in youth.” Our metaphors are a bit wonky, but it turns out they imply a whole lot about the validity of genius ideas – and the gender of the person having them.
That’s what Cornell University researchers Kristen Elmore and Myra Luna-Lucero just learned from three experiments. They manipulated acts of genius like Alan Turing’s creation of his Enigma machine and Hedy Lamarr’s discovery of spread spectrum radio waves to be either light bulb moments or the fruit of seeds of effort. The researchers distributed the randomized write-ups to participants and surveyed them about their perception of genius. The results, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, were surprising.
First, the researchers wrote two descriptions of Alan Turing’s creation of the code-breaking Enigma machine – one as a “light bulb” moment of sudden inspiration, and one as the “fruit” of effort over time. They randomly assigned those descriptions to 395 participants and asked them how that moment of genius defined Turing. The light-bulb metaphor led participants to think of Turing’s invention as exceptional. The seed metaphor did not:
Credit: Social Psychological and Personality Science
“This effect emerged even though all participants read about the same idea,” the authors emphasize in the study. “The seed metaphor may rely more on existing beliefs about effort in order to frame an idea as exceptional, whereas the light bulb metaphor may be so frequently evoked and familiar that it exerts influence regardless of more stable beliefs about whether ideas originate from inspiration.” That means that the light bulb comparison made Turing’s invention seem unattainable for anyone except a genius -- especially normal, hard-working people (which, given that Turing actually created the Enigma machine through long, hard work, is problematic).
Next, the researchers assigned 393 participants general statements about what the average man or woman was best at. After calculating the survey, they found that “women were more likely than men to endorse women as superior idea creators,” especially if those female participants had positive exposure to the seed metaphor. Then they surveyed 426 participants about the creation of spread spectrum radio waves, manipulating the gender of the inventor (Hedy Lamarr vs George Antheil, both of whom created the technology) and the light bulb vs seed comparison. They found that people were less likely to consider the invention an act of genius if Lamarr had created it in a light bulb moment – yet, were more receptive to it being the fruit of a seed. Participants were more likely to consider Antheil a genius when the invention was described as a light-bulb moment.
Credit: Social Psychological and Personality Science
Overall, the researchers found that “the seed metaphor is more compatible with and inclusive of women’s accomplishments… [and] possibly incongruent with the stereotype of male inventors.” They posit that difference as a semantic one in the study: “Language connecting innovation to stereotypically feminine traits like nurturance may bring to mind pathways to success and genius that challenge typical understandings of genius as innate.”
That’s particularly troubling given how women view their own intelligence, according to the study authors. “Women in male-dominated fields are more likely to misinterpret their effort as a sign that they do not belong and, thus, benefit in particular from portrayals of effort as normal for success.”
Compared to common findings on genius, that’s a striking thought. “Although certain individuals may be widely accepted as geniuses, there cannot be a consensus on exactly who is, and is not, a genius,” explains Psychology Today. One thing we know for certain is that genius is more about analytical reasoning skills and pattern thinking than light-bulb moments. And genius isn’t limited to only one kind of intelligence, either, as developmental psychologist Howard Gardner told us:
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.