New research has discovered that the more accomplished a scientist is, the more likely they are to have an artistic hobby.
While the average scientist is not more likely than the general public to have a craft or hobby, exceptional scientists (defined by membership of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society) are 1.7 – 1.9 times more likely to have an artistic hobby than the average scientist. This rises to 2.85 times more likely when it comes to Nobel Prize winning scientists and their hobbies.
The data about the general population of scientists comes from a survey of members of the Sigma Xi society. Experimental Psychology and Psychological and Behavioural Sciences applicants should investigate how reliable using the Sigma Xi society as a marker of the ‘average scientist’ is, given that it is skewed by membership fees, and more generally how useful the methodological parameters of the experiment were. For example, hobbies and crafts were defined by describing themselves or being described in biographies as being a “painter, photographer, actor, performer, composer, poet, dancers, craftsman, glassblower, and so on.” How accurate is self-assessment or assessment by a biographer?
One scientist argues that the reason for this overlap is because of existing functional connections between scientific talent and arts in the brain. A forefather of neuroscientific development, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, argues that “To him who observes [scientists with artistic hobbies] from afar, it appears as though they are scattering and dissipating their energies, while in reality, they are channeling and strengthening them.” Along a similar vein, Materials Science and Engineering applicants may be interested to know that British metallurgist Cyril Stanley Smith stated that “I have slowly come to realize that the analytic, quantitative approach I had been taught to regard as the only respectable one for a scientist is insufficient . . . the richest aspects of any large and complicated system arise from factors that cannot be measured easily . . . the artist’s approach, uncertain though it inevitable is, seems to convey more meaning.”