People Expect Men to Be Struck By Genius—And Women to Work For It -

A great reflective piece on by Nate Hopper @NDHopper

20 October 2016

How we describe inventors influences what we think of them—and what they did

We love us our geniuses. And we really, really love us the kind of genius who experiences an epiphany of almost divine origin—like being struck by lightning or a falling apple. This framing places the origins of innovation in a character trait, instead of depicting it as the result of effort and endurance. Geniuses are blessed heroes. The rest of us are incapable.

All of that, according to a recent study by Kristen Elmore of Cornell University and Myra Luna-Lucero of Columbia University, is wrapped up in how we most often describe genius in everyday life—as flashes or strikes, or as a lightbulb turning on. When compared to a different metaphor that implies long-term work—that “the seed of an idea” then “took root” and “has borne fruit”—the researchers found that the lightbulb metaphor led people to believe an idea was, they write, “more exceptional.” We feel that a lightbulb genius is a better genius.

The authors write that, “For a female inventor, the seed (vs. lightbulb) metaphor increased perceptions of her genius, whereas the opposite pattern was observed for a male inventor.” In essence: Men are struck by genius, while women must work for it.