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There is a persistent stereotype that geeks (let's formally define that as people a couple of standard deviations better than average in math, computers or other related abilities) as a whole have relatively poor language/communication skills, especially compared to other smart people with different talents (e.g. lawyery types). I hope this doesn't need "notability" claim :)

  • Is there any research confirming or denying this?

  • Is there a significant difference between "language" skills and "communication" skills in this context?

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I would prefer to see an example claim, if it was at all possible, to remove the vagueness from the question. (Your definition of 'geek' is unusual, and you ask the answerer to define language and communication skills.) – Oddthinking Dec 25 '12 at 13:31
(Speculation: If a child is good at words but not at maths, they are encouraged become a lawyer. Good at maths but not at words, they are encouraged to take a technical role. Good at both, they might get encouraged to become a doctor. Good at neither, they might be encouraged to become a manager/insert-your-own-dig-here. This explains the stereotype without a correlation being required.) – Oddthinking Dec 25 '12 at 13:35
@Sklivvz: There are at least three broad definitions of "geek". Oxford Dictionaries suggest: an unfashionable or socially inept person; a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast; a carnival performer who performs wild or disgusting acts. Same dictionary has two definitions for nerd: a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious; a single-minded expert in a particular technical field. So, to say geeks or nerds are socially inept is almost a tautology (depending on the definition intended). – Oddthinking Dec 25 '12 at 14:32
Ok, but restricting it makes it arbitrarily focused. The claim is very broad, but the question needn't be. – Sklivvz Dec 25 '12 at 15:35
@Oddthinking "Good at both, they might get encouraged to become a doctor." Having taught intro physics to a bunch of premeds more than once, I can't say I've been very impressed with their mathematical capacity. And even among diabetologist most have trouble working the arithmetic of insulin pumps without a calculator. – dmckee Dec 28 '12 at 0:49

ADHD is associated with problems in both math and peer-relations according to, among others, a Berkeley news report. If there is a common core component to ADHD, one might speculate that numerical working memory capacity and social working memory overlap to some extent. There is evidence for an overlap between these functions in terms of a non-specific neural correlate for working memory: activity in medial frontoparietal cortex decreases with increased working memory loads (see PNAS 2011).

If a single factor underlies both computation and social skills and if the factor can be extrapolated to the normal-cognitive population, it is possible that social and computational capacities depend on a shared cognitive element. However, further research would be needed to support this hypothesis. If this holds true, one would expect mathematicians with greater working memory capacity to be more social.

Erdős number anyone?

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Yes, here: 4 =) – Jens Jul 12 '13 at 6:19
I'm sorry, but I don't think this is a good answer. There are too many correlation != causation issues going on. The lower math scores are likely a limit in focus during math class making, making learning in general harder not math specifically, and issues with peer-relations a problem with impulsiveness, lowered self esteem, and 'unreliability'. Basically, they could be side effects not direct causes of ADHD, to presume this means correlation is a stretch, much less when expanded to non ADHD. – dsollen Feb 12 at 20:28
@dsollen Where did I imply causation? I am merely stating a hypothesis. I agree that attention during maths class is a possible culprit, but the link between maths performance and the ability to hold and update many items in memory simultaneously is a quite robust observation. Impulsiveness is coupled to a lack of behavioral inhibition. Behavioral inhibition is also required in order to direct attention away from distractions. – noumenal Feb 13 at 13:03

I think the study of mathematical ability and the autistic spectrum (c.f. Asperger syndrome" is the relevant seminal issue in this question. ADD vs ADHD is too restrictive as the occurrence of it is more of an associated symptom (I think) than a diagnostic category. Many but not all autistic spectrum disorder(s) have ADD. However, the neurological correlates of autism is well studied including wrt neuroplasticity impairment etc etc.

This said the study has two sides both of which need to be covered to answer this question. Are autistic spectrum disorders as a group have higher prevalence of above average mathematical ability? Do persons with greater mathematical ability contain a higher prevalence of autistic spectrum disorder(s)?

The definition of greater mathematical ability and it's detection needs of course to be provided first.

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Oops, I forgot to include the involvement of social impairment. Got those not familiar, social impairment/awkwardness is central to the autistic spectrum such that communication is disordered/dysfunctional. – David York Sep 3 '13 at 16:10
Welcome to Skeptics! This isn't a full referenced answer, but more of a speculative comment. When you get enough reputation, you will be able to comment rather than answer. – Oddthinking Sep 3 '13 at 17:53
Author of this post is a M.D, and will add references to that effect (undeleting so he can do this) – Tim Post Sep 5 '13 at 10:36

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