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Research reveals dyslexic men make great artists

Middlesex academics discover attribute that may explain link between dyslexia and artistic ability.

Psychologists have discovered a link between dyslexia and improved ability to judge space, which could explain the artistic ability of greats such as Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin – all thought to be dyslexic.

New research at Middlesex University suggests dyslexic men are better than the general population at processing 3D visual information. This so-called visuospatial ability is key to success in the fields of art, architecture, and design.  Surprisingly, the research did not establish this link in dyslexic women.

“It could be that spatial awareness develops in dyslexic readers because of their reduced language skill,” said Dr Nicola Brunswick, a Senior Lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University.
“There is a body of evidence showing that men in general have better spatial awareness than women on some tasks. So greater attention paid to spatial awareness by dyslexic readers is likely to be more pronounced in men than in women.”

“Also, many dyslexic people prefer to work out problems by thinking and doing rather than by speaking, this could help dyslexic men develop the kind of visual skills they need to succeed in the artistic and creative worlds,” she added.
The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) welcomed the research. “Anecdotal evidence has long since suggested that some dyslexic individuals may have strengths in visuospatial processing and activities,” said Dr Kate Saunders, Education Director at the BDA.

 “The British Dyslexia Association welcomes empirical research into possible cognitive strengths and abilities for dyslexic individuals.”

Dr Brunswick and her team from Middlesex University’s Psychology department set a series of tasks for participants in their study, which involved real world situations.  In one, they had to navigate their way around a virtual 3D town for one minute on a computer then reconstruct it from memory using models of the buildings and a to-scale floor plan.
“A lot of tests in this area in the past have been ‘paper and pencil’ tests but this isn’t a good test of real world ability.  Now we have real evidence to indicate that dyslexic men are better in this area,” added Dr Brunswick.

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