The Definition of Eccentricity


As my study was the first and, to this day, the only scientific investigation of eccentricity, one of my goals was to arrive at a description of eccentric individuals living in the community. Although the eccentrics were as diverse as one could imagine, they did share some common features. Their characteristic traits and behaviours composed a profile of the “typical” eccentric. In all, there were twenty-five descriptor variables of eccentricity, here laid out in descending order of importance:

  • Enduring non-conformity
  • Creative
  •  Strongly motivated by an exceedingly powerful curiosity and related exploratory behaviour
  • An enduring and distinct feeling of differentness from others
  • Idealism, wanting to make the world a better place and the people in it happier
  • Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations (usually about five or six)
  • Intelligent, in the upper fifteen per cent of the population on tests of intelligence
  • Opinionated and outspoken, convinced of being right and that the rest of the of the world is out of step with them
  • Non-competitive
  • Not necessarily in need of reassurance or reinforcement from the rest of society
  • Unusual eating habits and living arrangements
  • Not particularly interested in the opinions or company of other people, except perhaps in order to persuade them to their contrary point of view
  • Possessed of a mischievous sense of humour, charm, whimsy and wit
  • More frequently an eldest or an only child
  • Eccentricity observed in at least 36% of detailed family histories, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle. (It should be noted that the family history method of estimating hereditary similarities and resemblances usually provides rather conservative estimates.)
  • Eccentrics prefer to talk about their thoughts rather than their feelings. There is a frequent use of the psychological defence mechanisms of rationalization and intellectualisation.
  • Slightly abrasive
  • Midlife changes in career or lifestyle
  • Feelings of “invisibility”, which means that they believed other people did not seem to hear them or see them, or take their ideas seriously
  • Feel that others can only take them in small doses
  • Feel that others have stolen, or would like to steal, their ideas. In some cases, this was well-founded.
  • Disliked small talk or other apparently inconsequential conversation
  • A degree of social awkwardness
  • More likely to be single, separated or divorced, or multiply separated or divorced
  • A poor speller, in relation to their above average general intellectual functioning

The first five of these characteristics are the most important and apply to virtually every eccentric. Nonconformity is the principal defining trait.


Individuality is a distinct mode of being. It is not an indifferent attribute. People are meant to be self-determining. Humanity is unique in the ways that we do not always come to terms with our various environments. For other species, their perfectly valid adaptations are marked by passive responses, or reactions, to their ecological niches. In contrast, people can choose to be different, and choose from a range of environments, physical, social, and psychological.

Though free will is a fact of experience, eccentrics do not take this gift for granted. Eccentrics do more than merely grapple with the existence of free will. Their definitions of the good life generally are not troubled by doubt, nor do they act in more tentative ways. How could they aim for their goals if they didn’t already have a feel for where they were going? They engineer their lives in such a way as to repeatedly force its limits.

My thesis is that eccentrics take an active part in forging their own personalities in the direction of greater distinctiveness. While hardly ever denying their eccentricity — in the light of their evident self-awareness, how could they? — they well might object strenuously to other peoples’ invidious definitions.

Eccentrics usually never change themselves, nor do they hardly ever contemplate doing so. They usually remain true to their own individual natures. Their irreverence toward the strictures of mass culture continually resurfaces. They ceaselessly assert and reassert their fundamental right to be what they want to be. They draw from their inner wealth of experience to enlighten and deepen an intuitive sense of their need for greater personal uniqueness.

In the case of developing self-fulfilment, an individual can attain greater independence. For some people, this may lead to a more intense involvement in life, and a strong sense of purpose and commitment.

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