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Sudden Genius – The Acquired Savant Experience

Darold Treffert, M.D., one of the foremost experts on savantism, cites examples of “acquired savants” – defined as “previously non-disabled persons who after some injury or disease begin to demonstrate some, until then, dormant savant characteristics and capacities.”

A new Atlantic magazine article gives examples such as British photographer Eadweard Muybridge who created images like this one, “The Human Figure in Motion.”

A famous 1880s series of his photographs of a horse in midstride proved there was a point when all four feet were off the ground.

The article notes “Muybridge could be obsessive — and eccentric, too. His erratic behavior was blamed on a head injury he’d sustained in a serious stagecoach accident that killed one passenger and wounded all the rest.

“Now, researchers believe that the crash, which gave Muybridge a permanent brain injury, may actually have been partially responsible for endowing him with his artistic brilliance.”

Muybridge is considered an acquired savant, “somebody with extraordinary talent but who wasn’t born with it and who didn’t learn the skills from someplace else later. In fact, Muybridge’s savant abilities had evidently been buried deep in the recesses of his mind the whole time, and the stagecoach incident had simply unlocked them.”

But, as Dr. Treffert and this article point out, there are a number of people like Muybridge who have “miraculously developed artistic, musical, or mathematical abilities as a result of a brain injury.

“There’s Orlando Serrell, who was struck in the head with a baseball as a 10-year-old and found he could remember the weather for each day following his accident.”

Other examples: Derek Amato, “who woke up after hitting his head at the bottom of a pool and became a master pianist at 40, despite lacking any sort of musical training. There’s Alonzo Clemens, whose verbal and cognitive abilities stopped developing at the age of three due to a head injury but who can assemble incredibly detailed sculptures of animals in a matter of minutes.”

From article Eureka! When a Blow to the Head Creates a Sudden Genius, by Brian Fung, The Atlantic.

In his article Is There A Little Rain Man In Each Of Us?, Dr. Treffert asks if it is possible “to tap and use those still existent, but less frequently used, capacities and circuits, with some of their savant-like characteristics, in those of us more wedded to left brain capacity and higher level memory?”

Related post: The genius brain: Psychiatrist Darold Treffert on savants and hidden potential.

Dr. Treffert’s book is Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome.

In another post (with a video) – Savant abilities and learning differences relate to developing multiple talents – I quote Daniel Tammet, an author with autistic savant syndrome, who thinks the astounding abilities he and others have are not due to some cerebral or genetic fluke, but based on an associative form of thinking and imagination.

He thinks differences between savant and non-savant minds have been exaggerated, to the detriment of how most of us value our own abilities and develop our talents. “Every brain is amazing,” he notes.


Sudden Genius – The Acquired Savant Experience

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Sudden Genius – The Acquired Savant Experience. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 May 2012
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