Einstein’s Brain and Schizotypal Personality Disorder

In addition to constantly being cited as an example of someone on the autistic spectrum, it turns out that Einstein definitely had schizotypal traits (confirmed further by his son having full blown schizophrenia, usually found in first relatives with SPD). This is similar to Bertrand Russell, who also had many first relatives with schizophrenia and himself displayed schizotypal traits.

Unlike Russell and others however, we’ve had Einstien’s actual brain preserved for many decades, and we have a vast literature of brain imaging of schizotypal patients. What I thought to do is to compare this group with studies of Einstein’s brain to see if there were any significant connections.

What is SPD?

Unlike Schizrophrenia, Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD) tends to be much more manageable. Based on various descriptions, including by DSM-V, it is typically characterized by:

  • Odd beliefs/appearance or magical thinking different from cultural norms
  • An inappropriate belief that situations are strange
  • Paranoia
  • Unusual bodily perceptions such as derealization or depersonalization and
  • Social isolation

Extraordinary parts of Einstein’s and Schizotypals’ brains

This brings us to the brains, both Einstein¹ and Schizotypals² clearly had/have extraordinary brains and unusual shapes to go with them. The parts that were flagged for being different from the norm were:

  • Corpus callosum (both) – Connects left (detail) and right (whole-oriented) brain hemispheres.
  • Prefrontal cortex (both) –  Decision making and impulse control.
  • Parietal lobe (both) – Helps with sense of space and other functions.
  • Temporal lobe (both) – Involved with visual memories, new memories, understanding language, emotion and deriving meaning.
  • Somatosensory cortex (Einstein) – Creates the sense of touch.
  • Primary motor cortex (Einstein) – Helps with movement (probably larger because of Violin playing).
  • Occipital lobe (Einstein) – Sight and visual processing.
  • Amygdala (SPDs) – memory and decision making
  • Thalamus (SPDs) – Relays different parts of brain, regulates sleep and alertness.
  • Parahippocampus gyrus (SPDs) – Recognizing the enviromental and social context.
  • Superior temporal gyrus (SPDs) – Perception of emotion and facial expressions.

How these parts of brain are special in both

Using only the extraordinary brain parts that overlap for both (and which we can get the same measure) we have these three comparisons and one similarity:

Brain Part                                                        Einstein                        SPD

Corpus callosum Larger Larger
Prefrontal cortex Larger Left is Smaller
Parietal lobe Larger Smaller

Something about the corpus callosum? 

The only direct similarity was that schizotypals and Einstein had significantly larger than average corpus callosums(callosie?). This could show that both have especially well connected brain hemispheres, that is, they’re better at connecting abstract and detailed data.

This is also especially interesting since, in general, corpus callosum size has had a negative correlation with IQ (although for males the relation seems become more positive the older they get)³ and Einstien was estimated to have an IQ of 205 which is absurdly large by any measure.

From all this It’s possible that Einstein had the “good” parts of schizotypals (like abstract reasoning) without any of the downsides.

Footnotes

1. For all extraordinary parts of Einstien’s brain see “The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs” (PDF file) For the corpus callosum see “The corpus callosum of Albert Einstein‘s brain: another clue to his high intelligence?

2. For all parts of schizotypals brains see “The brain in schizotypal personality disorder: a review of structural MRI and CT findings.” (PDF).

3. See “Negative Associations between Corpus Callosum Midsagittal Area and IQ in a Representative Sample of Healthy Children and Adolescents

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