Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2003 00:13 UK

Einstein and Newton 'had autism'

Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton may have suffered from a type of autism, according to experts.

Albert Einstein
Einstein was a notoriously confusing lecturer

Researchers at Cambridge and Oxford universities believe both scientists displayed signs of Asperger's Syndrome.

Many people with Asperger's are often regarded as being eccentric. They sometimes lack social skills, are obsessed with complex topics and can have problems communicating.

This latest research suggests that Einstein, who is credited with developing the theory of relativity, and Newton, who discovered the laws of gravity, had these traits to varying degrees.

According to the researchers, Einstein showed signs of Asperger's from a young age.

As a child, he was a loner and often repeated sentences obsessively until he was seven years old. He was also a notoriously confusing lecturer.

Later in life, the German-born scientist made intimate friends, had numerous affairs and spoke out on political issues.


However, the researchers insist that he continued to show signs of having Asperger's.

"Passion, falling in love and standing up for justice are all perfectly compatible with Asperger's Syndrome," Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge, one of those involved in the study, told New Scientist magazine.

"What most people with Asperger's Syndrome find difficult is casual chatting - they can't do small talk."

The researchers believe that Newton displayed classic signs of the condition.

He hardly spoke, was so engrossed in his work that he often forgot to eat and was lukewarm or bad-tempered with the few friends he had.

If no one turned up to his lectures he gave them anyway talking to an empty room. At the age of 50, he had a nervous breakdown brought on by depression and paranoia.

However, others believe these traits can be attributed to both men's high intelligence.

'Socially inept'

"One can imagine geniuses who are socially inept and yet not remotely autistic," said Dr Glen Elliott, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco.

"Impatience with the intellectual slowness of others, narcissism and passion for one's mission in life might combine to make such individuals isolative and difficult."

He told the magazine that Einstein was regarded as having a good sense of humour - a trait not seen in people with severe Asperger's.

Professor Baron-Cohen said the findings suggested that people with the syndrome can excel if they find their niche in life.

"This condition can make people depressed or suicidal, so if we can find out how to make things easier for them, that's worthwhile."

Time for Einstein
26 Dec 99 |  Science/Nature
Why size mattered for Einstein
18 Jun 99 |  Science/Nature
Asperger syndrome
25 Aug 09 |  Health


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