McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Why Einstein was smarter than you

From the Lancet press release

Published: June 18, 1999

In this week's Lancet, researchers from McMaster University in Canada, report that they have identified differences in the brain of Albert Einstein that may be related to his genius in spatial and mathematical thinking. When Einstein died in 1955 at the age of 76 his brain was removed and preserved. However, until now there has never been a report describing the overall anatomy of his brain.

Professor Sandra F. Witelson, department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, from the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University, and her co-workers, compared anatomical measurements of Einstein's brain with those of brains of 35 men and 50 women who had normal intelligence. In general, Einstein's brain was similar to the other brains except for one area called the inferior parietal region. Because of extensive development of this region on both sides of his brain, his brain was 15% wider than other brains studied. "Visuospatial cognition, mathematical thought, and imagery of movement are strongly dependent on this region," the researchers note. This unusual brain anatomy may explain why Einstein tackled scientific problems the way he did, the researchers write, "Einstein's own description of his scientific thinking was that 'words do not seem to play any role', but there is 'associative play' of 'more or less clear images' of a 'visual and muscular type'.

In addition, unlike the other brains, Einstein's brain was unique in that it did not have a groove, called a sulcus, that normally runs through part of this area. The researchers speculate that the absence of the groove may have allowed more neurons in this area to establish connections between each other and work together more easily, possibly creating an "extraordinarily large expanse of highly integrated cortex within a functional network." The findings, the researchers conclude, suggest that differences in people's ability to perform certain cognitive functions may be due in some degree to physical differences in the structure of the regions of their brains that mediate those functions.

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