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Like many of the greatest minds in STEM, Bill Gates has been accused of having a touch of autism by armchair psychologists. Others argue he is simply a nerd.

While some argue that nerdiness is a mild form of autim, others, like LOTB, argue that the two concepts are distinct.

I have not done enough research to have a strong opinion either way, but a key deficit in autism involves executive functioning.

What is executive functioning?

Executive functions (collectively referred to as executive function and cognitive control) are a set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals. Executive functions include basic cognitive processes such as attentional controlcognitive inhibitioninhibitory controlworking memory, and cognitive flexibility. Higher order executive functions require the simultaneous use of multiple basic executive functions and include planning and fluid intelligence (e.g., reasoning and problem solving)

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions (2019-11-24)

What does any of this have to do with Bill Gates? My subjective impression is that Gates is relatively weak at EF. Perhaps not compared to the average person, but certainly compared to his super IQ matched peers. In support of this impression are three (admittedly weak) pieces of evidence.

1) He sucked at petals around the rose

If you’ve never heard of this game please check it out and record how many dice rolls it takes you to get six consecutive correct scores.

Then compare your performance to Gates’s.

This game strikes me as very similar to the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (a common measure of EF) in that it requires you to infer a rule based on repeated feedback. I infered the rule simply from the name of the game even before any feedback.

In Gates’s defense, he thought the game was called “pedal around the roses”, so this may explain his poor score.

2) He can’t control his hands

Anyone who has watched Gates in interviews knows how erratically his hands move around when he talks. I’m no neurologist, but this strikes me as an inability to inhibit certain responses, a lack of cognitive control or self-monitoring, and poor communication between the left and right brain. I tend to overuse my hands when I talk too so I see a bit of myself in Gates but I was insecure enough about it to stop.

I also have a problem where whenever I wave to someone, I also say “hi” even though they’re often too far away to hear me. I think this relates to the huge gap between my verbal (left-brain) and performance (right-brain) IQs. In extreme cases this can lead to unbuttoning your shirt with your left hand while simultaneously buttoning it up with your right-hand, thus never getting undressed.

3) He’s not that articulate

Despite the fact that Bill Gates’s verbal SAT score equates to a spectacular verbal IQ of 157, he’s not an especially impressive impromptu speaker. As commenter ” caffeine withdrawals” noted, he’s clearly above average, but not much more than that.

A professor of linguistics informed me that based on factor analysis, linguistic ability is actually three different abilities: vocabulary, working memory, and executive functioning. We know from Gates’s sky high verbal and math SAT scores that he’s likely extremely high in the first two, so only the third factor could be dragging down his speaking skills.

How does EF affect speaking skills? EF is all about planning and if you can’t plan your sentences and paragraphs in real lime, they wont be especially succinct. EF also relates to fluency because a certain amount of flexibility is needed to find the right word to express a given thought. People who perseverate too much on one word, or one type of word, will not be smooth talkers.