American Psychologist
(January 27, 1948- )



  • Occidental College (B.A. in Psychology, Magna Cum Laude, 1970)
  • Harvard University (M.A. in Social Psychology, 1973; Ph.D. in Social Psychology, 1975)


  • Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas (1974-1976)
  • Assistant Professor, University of California, Davis (1976-1980)
  • Associate Professor, University of California, Davis (1980-1985)
  • Visiting Research Psychologist, Institute for Personality Assessment and Research, UC Berkeley (1985)
  • Professor, University of California, Davis (1985-present; became Distinguished Professor in 2004, Distinguished Professor Emeritus since 2016)
  • Numerous awards, including the Robert S. Daniel Award for Four Year College/University Teaching (American Psychological Association, 2006); the Theoretical Innovation Prize (APA, 2004), the William James Book Award (APA, 2000), George A. Miller Outstanding Article Award (APA, 1997), Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Achievement in Psychology and the Arts (APA, 1996), Sir Francis Galton Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Study of Creativity (International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, 1996), Award for Excellence in Research (Mensa Education and Research Foundation, 1986, 2009, 2011), Lifetime Achievement Award (Mensa Foundation, 2019)

Definition of Intelligence

“My view of intelligence is basically a Darwinian one. It’s based on sort of the old Functionalist notion that goes way back to Francis Galton, that says that there are a certain set of cognitive capacities that enable an individual to adapt and thrive in any given environment they find themselves in, and those cognitive capacities include things like memory and retrieval, and problem solving and so forth. There’s a cluster of cognitive abilities that lead to successful adaptation to a wide range of environments (Simonton, personal communication, July 5, 2003).”

Major Contributions

  • Empirically examines the nature and origins of genius as it manifests in creativity, leadership, talent and aesthetics
  • Extended and advanced the historiometric approach of measuring the intelligence of historical persons
  • Author of more than 500 books, book chapters and research articles

Interview with Dr. Simonton (with video clips)

Click here to see the interview transcript and video clips.

Ideas and Interests

Dean Keith Simonton’s substantial contributions to the study of human intelligence arose in part from his youthful enthusiasm for the classical arts, sciences, and humanities. At an early age he developed a keen interest in the nature and origins of genius in these domains, and his prolific research career is a testament to his personal passion for all that is culturally significant, great and beautiful, as well as his insatiable curiosity about the eminent individuals involved in the creation of such things.

Dr. Simonton’s more than 500 books, book chapters and research articles explore genius, creativity, leadership, talent and aesthetics; specifically, the “cognitive, personal, developmental, social, and cultural factors behind eminence, giftedness, and talent in science, art, politics and war” as well as the psychology of science and distinguished scientists (retrieved from Having firmly established himself in the tradition of Sir Francis Galton, Dr. Simonton’s preferred research approach is historiometric; that is, he uses the tools of history, biography and psychometrics to extrapolate general principles about human behavior from the lives and works of the eminent individuals he studies (Simonton, 1984; 1999b) . Some of his findings related to intelligence include:

  1. Although at least a moderately high IQ is important for the achievement of eminence, statistical analyses demonstrate that intelligence accounts for only about 4-5 percent of the variance in measures of cultural eminence. Developmental, motivational and personality factors seem to matter a great deal more. Thus, very intelligent people do not necessarily accomplish great things (Simonton, 1999a; Simonton, personal communication, July 5, 2003).
  2. The relationship between IQ and persuasive influence over other members of one’s group may drop off beyond an IQ of approximately 120. Individuals who are very smart may be less comprehensible to other group members, and this might have a negative impact on their ability to influence those around them. Even if the exceptionally bright individuals are able to target their use of language to the needs of their audience, the complexity of their ideas may be less accessible to listeners with IQs more than one standard deviation lower than their own (Simonton, 1985; 1999a). As evidence, Simonton’s historiometric research demonstrates that more intelligent individuals have had a harder time getting elected to the American presidency (Simonton, 1999a)!
  3. Intelligence level impacts everyday creativity, such as that involved in problem-solving, but individuals with very high intelligence do not necessarily demonstrate the type of creativity that will make an impression on society at large (Simonton, 1999a).

Selected Publications

Simonton, D. K. (1984). Genius, creativity and leadership: Historiometric inquiries. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1988). Scientific genius: A psychology of science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1990). Psychology, science and history: A introduction to historiometry. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1997). Genius and creativity: Selected papers: Greenwich, CT: Ablex

Simonton, D. K. (1999). Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Simonton, D.K. (2003). It’s absolutely impossible? A longitudinal study of one psychologist’s response to conventional naysayers. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed .). Psychologists defying the crowd: Stories of those who battled the establishment and won (pp. 239-254). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Simonton, D. K. (2004). Creativity in science: Chance, logic, genius, and zeitgeist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (2006). Presidential IQ, Openness, Intellectual Brilliance, and leadership: Estimates and correlations for 42 US chief executives. Political Psychology, 27, 511-639.

Simonton, D. K. (2008). Childhood giftedness and adulthood genius: A historiometric analysis of 291 eminent African Americans. Gifted Child Quarterly, 52, 243-255.

Simonton, D. K. (2009). Genius 101. New York: Springer.

Simonton, D. K., & Song, A. V. (2009). Eminence, IQ, physical and mental health, and achievement domain: Cox’s 282 geniuses revisited. Psychological Science, 20, 429-434.

Antonakis, J., House, R. J., & Simonton, D. K. (2017). Can super smart leaders suffer too much from a good thing? The curvilinear effect of intelligence on perceived leadership behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102, 1003-1021.

Simonton, D. K. (2018). The genius checklist: Nine paradoxical tips on how you can become a creative genius. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Simonton, D. K. (2018). Intellectual brilliance and presidential performance: Why pure intelligence (or openness) doesn’t suffice. Journal of Intelligence, 6, 18; doi:10.3390/jintelligence6020018



Simonton, D. K. (1984). Genius, creativity and leadership: Historiometric inquiries. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1985). Intelligence and personal influence in groups: Four nonlinear models. Psychological Review, 92, 532-547.

Simonton, D. K. (1999a). Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1999b). Significant samples: The psychological study of eminent individuals. Psychological Methods, 4(4), 425-451.

Simonton, D. K. (2009). The “other IQ”: Historiometric assessments of intelligence and related constructs. Review of General Psychology, 13, 315- 326.

Image courtesy of Dean Keith Simonton

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 – Last updated on April 26, 2022 –