A geek is traditionally defined as an enthusiast who develops expertise on a topic through exceptional determination and devotion, usually focusing either on science and technology, or somewhat obscure media, such as Japanese animation, science fiction and video games.
Previously relegated to socially-awkward teenagers, geek culture is now much more mainstream, as evidenced by rising levels of attendance in various “geeky” shows, conventions and other events.
As with any other social-phenomenon-on-the-rise, hard-core Trekkies and Star Wars fans are now getting their share of scientific attention – a new paper, recently published in the journal PLOS One, describes a series of studies involving a total of 2,354 people who took part in online surveys, or answered questions while attending a science fiction and fantasy convention called DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia.
Those who scored higher on scales the researchers developed to gauge their level of involvement with the culture, were found to be more narcissistic, extraverted and open to new experience, yet also more neurotic and prone to non-clinical depression.
Study lead author Jessica McCain, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, said heading to the Star Wars premiere dressed as Princess Leia could provide a useful outlet for many of these personality traits at once.
“It’s a great opportunity to get attention and to express creativity – maybe you figured out a really clever way to do hair buns,” she said.
While some commentators have fingered geek culture as one of the reasons behind the rising incidence of narcissism in the US, McCain and her colleagues argue that such judgements are premature and most likely based on the social stigma these people have been carrying for many decades.
According to McCain, individuals high in geek engagement scored high in all of these traits, but barring some depression, reduced crystalized intelligence, and thwarted autonomy, they also showed increased levels of civic engagement and showed no deficits in belongingness, social network size, or future orientation.
“Thus we have painted a picture of geeks as different, but not dysfunctional.”