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Hackers perceive and experience the world differently than mainstream society, for a lot of reasons. Some people have postulated those reasons may be attributed to neurological conditions, such as Asperger's Syndrome.

Other than interviews with convicted hackers (mostly young men in jail), there has been little psychological study done on hackers. This is not surprising, as anyone attempting to learn about hacker culture from the outside will always be met with a predictable wall of mistrust, misinformation, and the subculture's trademark, guarded secrecy. That didn't dissuade Dr. Bernadette Schell, Psy.D., and her co-researchers from embarking on what became 10 years (eventually comprised of multiple studies) of surveying hacker conference attendees with the goal of understanding hacker psychology. Namely, to see if perceptions about hackers -- such as having Asperger's Syndrome, or whether mal-inclined hackers are cognitively and/or behaviorally "different" from adults functioning in mainstream society -- are true.

The bulk of Schell's studies have been recently published as Female and Male Hacker Conferences Attendees: Their Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) Scores and Self-Reported Adulthood Experiencesin the study collection "Corporate Hacking and Technology Driven Crime" (2011). 

Generally, Schell and her co-researchers focused on the perception of hackers as "strange" and examined hacker conference attendees' self-reported Autism-spectrum Quotient (AQ) predispositions.
Interestingly, Asperger's syndrome had been around for half a century but it wasn't until the year 2000 that The New York Times Magazine called Asperger's syndrome "the little professor syndrome."
A year later, Wired magazine labeled it "The Geek Syndrome" in an article and ran the Autism Spectrum Quotient test alongside its article. However, only case observation was given in the Wired article, with no empirical proof of its presence in the hacker population.
Essentially, the results were middle-ground, with no push toward one extreme of Asperger's prevalence one way or the other. With these results, saying that most hackers are "on the spectrum" would be a mischaracterization.

According to the study, new research suggests that those labeled as Asperger's syndrome individuals may not be "unfeeling geeks" or emotionally and socially deficient. The Intense World Theory sees the core issue in autism-spectrum disorders as not being a lack of empathy or feeling -- but instead these individuals are having a hypersensitivity-to-affective-experience issue. Meaning, they feel "too much" in a room full of people and the information comes in too fast than can be comfortably processed. This person would combat social anxiety by focusing on details and switching attention, pulling back in a way that appears to be callous or disengaged but is actually a coping mechanism for overwhelming feelings, and choosing to hide their own.

Before headlines distort too much of this study as the final word on hacker psychology, keep in mind that this was a very limited data set, pulled from a culture that is comprised of outsiders within a group of outsiders -- and that by and large doesn't really want to talk about itself (outside of accomplishments or sharing knowledge).

Cross-posted from: Cnet
 


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