Nerds & Geeks: An Etiological History and its Psychosocial Implications

Again some discussion about the Geek-Nerd dichotomy. Some earlier post on this subject are here and, especially, here on this blog.
Now the WikiVersity has started a serious research page on the subject:

  • What is a nerd?
  • What is the spectrum of “nerd-ness”? What are the core nerd personality traits?
  • How did this identity originate? And where? In what culture?
  • What are the implications of being labeled a nerd?
  • What are the implications of labeling oneself a nerd?
  • What are causal factors involved with labeling oneself a nerd?
  • What are the psychological processes involved?
  • What percentage of heavy computer users label themselves as nerds?
  • What percentage of people label themselves a nerd?
  • What percentage of nerds will report positive valance about schema surrounding their identity as a nerd?
  • What is the differences between males and females who label themselves nerds?
  • Are “nerds” a cross cultural phenomenon? Or are they specific to only a few social groups?
  • Generally, do nerds have a greater or fewer number of sexual partners than the average person?
  • Are the quality of the sexual experiences of nerds of higher or lower quality than those who are “not nerds”
  • Are there objective criteria for what is qualitatively or quantitively a nerd?
  • Gender bias.
  • Are social groups and activities that are perceived as “nerdy” subject to sexual stereotyping about their relevance to women and men?
  • Is there wide-spread misunderstanding about the relative worth of “nerdy activities” to women and men?
  • Is there active promotion of misconceptions about the relevance of “nerdy activities” to both sexes?
  • Do social groups that self-identify as “nerdy” unfairly exclude more women than men?

The page goes on with summing up the characteristics of psychological behaviour of nerds. E.g.

Some commentators have noticed similarities between pronounced nerdy behavior and the neurological disorder known as high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome.


In the practice of psychology, geeks and nerds can be said to be Myers-Briggs Type Indicator INTP, ENTP or INTJ, and, in various cases, ENTJ. (…)
In the works of Riso and Hudson, specifically Understanding the Enneagram revised edition, page 180, point 10, the term “nerd” is used as a primary reference to (and indication of being) Enneagram type 5.

Well, decide for yourself; here is the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator Sampler, here is a free Meyer-Briggs personality test, here is a more elaborate (and expensive) Meyer-Briggs personality test and here is the Autism-Spectrum Quotient test. And here is the discussion “PDD, Asperger and Geek Syndrome” at Slashdot.
I did all of these tests and I will not exhibit my personal characteristics here, but I can happily state that I’m not a Enneagram type 5. 🙂 Considering the Autism-Spectrum Quotient test I must admit that the result was, err, peculiar. 🙂 I comfort myself with the thought that self-diagnosis is rarely accurate and the result therefore probably isn’t correct.

CNN has a special converage called “Geek Out“, with an article “Are you a nerd or a geek?” Conclusions:

  • The difference between being a nerd and a geek is deeply subjective
  • “Geeking out” about something means becoming an expert in a particular subject
  • Many see themselves as both nerd and geek; others are keen not to be misidentified

There are many people who prefer to be called a “geek” because of that empowerment factor. E.g. Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the creators of the Web comic “Penny Arcade”:

” I think being a geek is cool… A geek has an ownership of their geek nature,” said Holkins. “[Nerds] don’t. It’s my hope that nerds become geeks via a natural process. That they learn that their inherent nature isn’t something they need to feel ashamed of. I feel like ‘nerd’ is the epithet, and ‘geek’ is the inside term.”

The list goes on with citing famous people’s opinion, but I’ll quote here Kunal Nayyar, who plays “Raj Koothrappali” on the CBS show “The Big Bang Theory“:

“I know what it feels like to be passionate about something,” he said. “And these guys are very passionate about their lifestyle. They’re very passionate about comic books, they’re very passionate about what they wear, they’re very passionate about their work. So the term ‘geek’ or ‘nerd,’ it really just transcends to someone who’s very passionate about a certain lifestyle. You see a lot of people living their lives in the middle. These guys don’t. They don’t live their life in the middle, they go for whatever they want. And of course, according to the regular society it’s really not the norm,(…)

So, we still don’t know what’s the difference, but The Nerd Project tries to draw the line:

Pundits and observers dispute the relationship of the terms “nerd” and “geek” to one another, as many use the words synonymously. The two terms are commonly used incorrectly, or are misapplied, particularly by journalists.
Some view the geek as a less technically skilled nerd. Others view the exact opposite. The lines between geek and nerd are often thin and ill-defined, however a general consensus is that a “geek” is a person who obsesses in one area or another, whereas a “nerd” is a highly intelligent person who is very scholarly and does well in many domains such as math, science, computing, etc. Geeks are more associated with obsessive knowledge. For example a Star Trek geek (or Trekkie) is someone who could tell you extremely trivial details about Star Trek and may be likely to watch the show on a daily basis or go to Star Trek conventions. A person can be a nerd in almost any subject, but is usually associated with things that most people don’t do or things that require an intellect, for example a person who plays a lot of video games could be called a gaming nerd, but it would be inappropriate to call an obsessive chef a cooking nerd because many people cook and it is a daily activity, whereas video games are more of a subculture. Another difference some people make between nerds and geeks are that nerds are more “bookworms” whose interests are in the fields of academia, such as mathematics and science. Geeks are interested in computers and video gaming, or movies with large fan-bases such as Star Wars. Also, many wish to differentiate between nerds who are deeply engrossed in purely entertainment oriented genres and nerds who are deeply engrossed in subjects that require serious study and committment and have real-life career potential or applications.

That at least, makes some sense, but I still think the whole discussion is only about labelling people, to put them in categories. And therefore it is an activity only done by geeks and nerds.

Only a geek would waste their time on the internet, defining geek on – Urban Dictionary

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  • The Aesthetics and Beauty of Knowledge

    Shih was the opposite of facts and raw information; shih was the elegance of knowledge, the insight and skill to organize knowledge into meaningful patterns. As an artist chooses colours or light to make her pictures, a master of shih chooses textures of knowledge – various ideas, myths, abstractions, and theories – to create a way of seeing the world. The aesthetics and beauty of knowledge – this was shih.

    – David Zindell, The Broken God, 1993

  • Geek Attitude

    The attitude thing is about flexibility, portability, creativity, sociability and jamming (ran out of suitable “ity” words!). It’s about improvising – in the practical and musical senses of the word; not getting tangled in boundaries and the “right” way to do things.
    Definitely the only way to travel.
    Martin Delaney – “Laptop Music”.