I have an IQ of…
Well, yes, about that, thing is, you see, it does and it doesn’t mean a damned thing, for many reasons, least of which is that on its own it’s useless.
Then there’s the nitty gritty of “says who?”
Ignoring cultural factors like reading right to left, or top to bottom, there’s multiple tests (few of which are reliable), multiple interpretations and scales (e.g. SD15 vs SD16 vs SD24, Stanford–Binet vs Cattel etc), different types (e.g. WAIS IV vs Raven’s Progressive Matrices vs SAT), varying test conditions and monitoring, mood of the participant on the day, etc.
Added to this is another problem: IQ tests are designed for ‘normal’ people. Half the world has an IQ of 100, normal. 68% of the world has an IQ in the ‘average range’ of 85 to 114. These tests are designed and tested for the top 90% of the population, arguably up to around the top 2%, so your basic Ph.D types. Above or below that, not so much.
Further more, which is a problem, they don’t test your IQ per se, they test your ability to do IQ tests. May seem pedantic, but science has yet to agree what ‘intelligence’ is, much less the conscience and sub-conscience. It’s why they can program A.I. to ‘do’, but not to ‘be’.
On top of this, nobody likes a braggart. In 2004, when Deborah Solomon of the New York Times asked Stephen Hawking what his IQ was, he replied that he had no idea, though he hoped the he was “near the upper end of the scale”, adding,
People who boast about their I.Q. are losers.
I always suspected this was a dig at Mensa, but the salient point of his remark is that it’s what you achieve with the time and brains you have that matters, not simply that you put it on a placard to be admired.
Ignoring the lower end of the scale, as it goes up, it becomes increasingly dubious, unreliable, and ultimately meaningless.
A typical IQ test might have 40, 60 or even a 100 questions, and they are timed. In a test most people will look at the question(s), maybe estimate or scribble on a piece of paper and try to work it out, or just guess, hoping the options match their ‘guess’ or calculation. People with exceptionally high IQs won’t do this in most cases, they’ll glance, work it out in their head, sometimes in a fraction of a second, then look for and circle the correct answer.
Nerves and self-doubts aside, sometimes people stumble over a mental block; it works against ‘smart’ people too. They see the ‘obvious’ answer – and ignore it. While the rest have moved on, they are locked, trying to solve it, after they worked out the answer, because, being so clever, they know “it can’t be that simple” and agonise over the ‘real solution’. Funny ol’ world, eh!
Ultimately, not everyone is to expected to finish, much less finish in a fraction the allotted time, far less again to get them all correct, for that would throw a monkey wrench into the machine.
There’s an interesting article on the matter by M Gross, entitled Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted Students: An Underserved Population, which highlights the problem. If you are even moderately below average, the societal aspects of the schooling system will rush to your aid, in the form of ‘special needs’, mentors, etc. If you are gifted, the teachers will rush to your aid, you are their star pupil after all, the A* prodigy, the brightest child in the class.
Ah, but it you are truly exceptional, well, not so much; you are held back and learn to despise school. The idea that you could be substantially brighter than all of them, the faculty included, no. You’re just disruptive and sullen.
From memory, allowing for the ranges being +/- 20 points, a typical university graduate – such as a teacher – will have an IQ around 115, a doctor (MD or academic Ph.D) is around 125, a tenured professor in a top or ivy league university (such as MIT, Harvard, Cambridge), will be around 140, a Nobel scientist comes in at 154.
From the standpoint of a teacher, there’s just 30 points between them and a mentally disabled child, and them and one of the brightest minds on the planet. And here’s this snotty nosed kid, that’s perhaps 60 points ahead of them.
To put the difference into perspective, that’s like someone who cannot read or write, who lacks the intelligence to grasp even the most basic maths, telling someone with a first class degree that they (the graduate) are as dumb as a post.
Consider the graph of IQ curves below, from relative perspectives.
In the center is how half the world’s population see the rest. In terms of numbers, they are the top dog. Seen from the mental acuity of someone with an IQ of 40, they are a regular Einstein.
Alas, shift the curve 60 points to the right and, well, that’s awkward.
Move the curve further right to 180 and beyond and even the top 2% – doctors, engineers, scientists with a ‘genius’ IQ of 130 come across as slow.
True, the graph is ugly science, not even that, at best it pseudo-science, and yet there it sits, mocking, almost. Those bunched up around 140 to 160 can be arrogant and feel superior (and they hate being corrected!), but, I feel, as you pass that, less so. Not so much they have nothing to prove, as they are beyond all that. Indifferent and disinterested. It would to them, perhaps, be like mocking a dog because it can’t do calculus. (Yes, I’m aware of the Theory of Diminishing Returns, thanks).
Well that’s uncommon!
Another issue is the regularity of testing, or lack thereof. While SAT tests are standard in the US, for university entrance, or high profile jobs, IQ test for the general population don’t happen. (Well, ‘aptitude tests’ as, apparently, IQ tests as selection criteria are illegal, as least in the US.)
Plenty of really smart people – who have never been tested formally – work in menial and low-paying jobs, and are content.
At the other extreme, at least according to the IQ comparison site, the occurrence rate for an IQ of 180 (SD15) is put at less than 1 in 20 million. For the global population, that is just 372 people. (Noting that most IQ tests are capped at 160).
They also (dubiously) put an IQ of 202 at an occurence rate of 1 in 190 billion (1 in 10 billion if SD15), which is a bit awkward as The Guiness Book of Records, before it removed the category, listed child prodigy Kim Ung-Yong (now a civil engineer) as having an IQ of 210. Others are similar, or even higher. Another child prodigy and polyglot – James Sidis – was thought to have an IQ of over 250; some sources suggest 254, others 250 to 300. A tad more than 200 at any rate.
Talking of extremes, while you have almost certainly heard of Mensa, have you heard of The Giga Society?
With an entry requirement of IQ 196 (SD15) there’s only theoretically 7 people in the world who can join (as least according to the IQ comparison site). Out of curiosity I looked at the guy’s home website (Paul Cooijmans) and we could almost be twins, in many respects, notably interests; he even dressed the same! But, looking at his code (sloppy, Paul: Autumn 2005 pics), I have the edge (GRINS).
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, eh.
IQ and labels
The actual labels as well change over time, what’s a medical term one century is a gross insult the next, what’s a standard text book psychology term one year can, the next, be replaced as it’s not “politically correct”.
Citing Dr Steven Gans, MD, Assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Amy Morin, LCSW, IQ scores are often classified in the following way:
1 to 24: Profound mental disability
25 to 39: Severe mental disability
40 to 54: Moderate mental disability
55 to 69: Mild mental disability
70 to 84: Borderline mental disability
85 to 114: Average intelligence
115 to 129: Above average; bright
130 to 144: Moderately gifted
145 to 159: Highly gifted
160 to 179: Exceptionally gifted
180 and up: Profoundly gifted
On Genius and Madness
This might surprise you but ‘genius’ is not really a psychology term, just as ‘insanity’ is not, not any more, that is!
As the Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (4e, 2009) notes (in the entry under insanity):
If psychology textbooks, dictionaries and encyclopedias have an entry on genius (not all do) it’s generally there to say that there isn’t such a definition. Penguin, for instance, called it a “loosely used term that has no clear set of attributes” and complained that
The Oxford dictionary of Psychology (4e, 2015) though considers it to be a ‘person of exceptional intelligence or ability’ (giving as an example the artist Michaelangelo). In (historic) terms they note a permissible criteria such as an IQ of 140 has been used to define it.’ Oxford, if you wondered, concur on the subject of insanity.
‘Genius’ is, at best subjective and peer reviewed. Most people would agree Da Vinci was a genius. And Einstein too, though less so. But what about actress Hedy Lamarr? She helped develop radio guidance systems for WWII torpedoes in the 1940s and it is her you have to thank for your WI-FI and Bluetooth connections.
But how about Tracy Emin’s masterpiece: My bed? A work of artistic genius? Apparently the woman pretty much got out of bed one afternoon, still drunk and hung over and thought, “Hey, y’ know wot, sod making the bed, sod picking up the used condoms and half-empty booze bottles, I’ll sell it to the Tate as is!” At the risk of being called a philistine I’d argue that rather than an unmade bed being a work of genius, the Tate gallery is owned by gullible mugs.
Funnily enough, genius (and madness) is one of my things. I do have a lot of ‘things’ – sciences, computers, nature, grammar, the angle a pan has to be on the hotplate, you know how it goes. Some of it comes from hanging round psychologists for 50-odd years, knowing words like ‘Superman’ (DC version and Nietzsche’s Übermensch), ‘secure facility’ and ‘mental asylum’ at a time and age most kids were watching Andy Pandy, or Bill & Ben, though I watched those too.
Thus the following came as no great surprise to me. NASA, along with other interested parties, did longitudinal studies on creative genius, and found that We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down. The scientists studied 1,600 children over their schooling and here’s what they found, based on creative answers to questions, puzzles and dilemmas (like “things to do with a fork”):
Ages 4-5 years old: 98% were considered creative geniuses
Aged 10 years old, this dropped to 30%
Aged 15 years old, it dropped to 12%
By aged 31-years-old (mean age, based on 1,000,000+) is was just 2%
More than a few people have offered the opinion that the purpose of school is to prepare the next batch of unthinking voters and menial workers to keep the wheels of commerce oiled. The modern yokes of serfdom, as it were.
Though on a different topic, that of risk literacy, Gerd Gigerenzer, also talks about how were are not taught how to think properly. I recommend you take the time to watch this one.
Closer to the mark, and at times humourously, Sir Ken Robinson asks “Do schools kill creativity?”
Smart is as smart does?
Another salient point is this:
If IQ measure intelligence, and intelligent people can and do do the most unintelligent, irrational and even stupid things, what is intelligence?
An article on IQ posted on Edublox offered, as examples of the above, the Nobel scientist whose marriage and personal life are in tatters, the CEO working himself into a heart attack, the doctor smoking 60 cigarettes a day, or the world class composer on the run from creditors because he can’t manage money.
The list from there is endless, for every vise and failing you can list, from alcoholism to drug addiction, from suicide to polygamy, reckless driving to moronic pranks, you will have a ‘smart’ person that’s done it. Repeatedly. Others with a bucket list of failings to their name.
My own IQ, varyingly established by a number of NHS trusts, mental health facilities, psychology consultants and others (following a catalogue of mental health problems), is considered significantly above average. In fact it was described as “off the charts” during one, err, hearing. And yet… Suffice to say my list of past errors – across two continents – covers bankruptcy, reckless endangerment, suicidal and homicidal episodes, way too many regrets, at least one episode of people in blind panic while I laughed manically, and the occasional instance of the gentlemen in blue (and once or twice in white lab coats) saying, “We’d like you to come with us please, quietly.” About my only saving grace is I managed to keep gambling and substance abuse and addiction in all it’s forms off the list!
As I say, IQ as a sole guide is meaningless.
I remember once in high school, chemistry homework, I worked out the answer to several hundred decimal places (until it recurred). (This was before calculators and computers). I couldn’t understand why the teacher was shouting at me – his favourite pupil (I was a natural at chemistry) – why I was a suddenly a “stupid boy”. He’d asked for an exact answer, he got one. He didn’t say anything about ‘to two decimal places’, or ’rounding’, he said, ‘work it out’. It was only years later, on reflection of his words, or rather how they increasingly rose in pitch and volume, that I understand why he was angry: he didn’t want to AND WOULD NOT work out if I was right. That anyone would (not could) work it out so precisely rocked him to his core.
Similar disagreements occurred in maths class. The teacher put up binomial equations, I wrote down the answers. He said I got them all wrong, I pointed out that my answers were correct and that I’d worked them out in my head, so he argued, “even if they are right, they are wrong because I can’t see how you worked them out”, and made me write down all the stages.
(I was in my 40’s before I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Suffice to say terms like Asperger’s syndrome didn’t exist I was at school, I was just ‘that weird kid’.)
Case it point, this was me, below, as a teenager, I think, doing ‘crunches’. Doing crunches seven foot in the air, over a concreted area, held up by my toes! Even now, looking back, I have to wonder, “What the hell was I thinking!?” A fall from that height and position…
Conversely, this was me, below, a few years later, playing chess and scrabble (at the same time), and winning in both. Yet I’ve yet to finish college!
Why smart people do stupid things
One of my pet rants, in the past, was frequently aimed at the bunch of moronic idiots working for Activision-Blizzard, as programmers. In fact I told them so, usually in less polite terms, many times. Directly. As a psychologist, or at least psychology student, I know the difference between a diagnostic term and an insult and I flung the later at them most liberally, for years.
Yes, I know their developers are all probably highly intelligent, highly educated people, that doesn’t mean they can’t be stupid, trust me, this I know.
As one short blog post by Derek Sivers pointed out,
There are no smart people or stupid people, just people being smart or being stupid.. I think the irony of me calling them stupid and sending this link was lost on them, ‘cos they banned me in the end.
I sent them a lot of links like that! One comment read: “A better article though, originally in the Wall Street Journal, is Why Smart People are Stupid. Really, Devs, let go of that damned anchor, you are pulling the ship down!”
Similarly: Why Smart People Act So Stupid.
You’d be amazed at just how many books, youtube videos, blog and scientific papers cover the innate stupidity of smart people. Nearly as many as why ‘stupid people think they are intelligent’, but I’m not getting into cognitive behaviour here. Besides, I’ve probably covered things like the Dunning-Kruger effect a few times here in the past.
I’ll leave this section with another question posed by Gerd Gigerenzer, in a talk on How do smart people make smart decisions. He asked, “Did you choice your partner by a calculation?” The point being this is completely at odds with the topic. Ignoring things like arranged marriages, you simply do not choose your romantic partner with an algorithm or logic array, and if you make a decision like that it’s likely to be wrong. Bears thinking about.
IQ and careers
In a lecture on ‘IQ and the job market’ (below) Dr Jordan Peterson talks through the professions, from attorneys, engineers, chemists and systems analysts at the top end (95-98th percentile, 116 to 130), down to messenger, janitors and packers at the bottom end (37th to 21st percentile, 93 to 87).
Importantly he notes that below an IQ of 87 there is just nothing in the job market for you. Additionally, he points out, by US law, you can’t even be conscripted with an IQ of 83 or below; you are too dumb to even serve as cannon fodder! Equally, at the top end of the market, and IQ of 130 is it, more may be better, but it ceases to be a sticking point.
While the main contributor fails to cite his sources it’s interesting to note that his list, copied below, closely follow the video lecture above by Dr Jordan Peterson above (e.g. Professors at the top, around IQ 130, and packers at the bottom, around IQ 85.)
“Mean IQ score of persons in various occupations, taken from a variety of Western studies” (resorted alphabetically):
Accountants 119, 128
Carpenters and cabinet makers 97
Carpenters, construction 102
Clerks (general) 118
Cooks and bakers 97
Drivers, truck and van 97
Education administrators 122
Engineers (civil and mechanical) 125
Factory packers and sorters 85
Foremen, industrial 114
General managers in business 122
Machine operator 105
Machine operators 97
Managers, miscellaneous 116
Managers, production 118
Physicians and surgeons 128
Police officers 108
Professors and researchers 131, 134
School teachers 121, 123
Senior clerks 118
Small farmers 96
Stenographers 119, 121
Store managers 103
Unskilled labourer 90
Warehouse men 98
In keeping with roughly the numbers I have in memory, and pairing closely with other lists, EduBlox, citing Know Your Child’s IQ, by Wilson and Grylls, offer the following IQ/career pairings:
130: Physicians and Surgeons; Lawyers; Engineers (Civil and Mechanical).
120: School Teachers; Pharmacists; Accountants; Nurses; Stenographers; Managers.
110: Foremen; Clerks; Telephone Operators; Salesmen; Policemen; Electricians.
100: Machine Operators; Shopkeepers; Butchers; Welders; Sheet Metal Workers
90: Warehousemen; Carpenters; Cooks and Bakers; Small Farmers; Truck and Van Drivers.
Final note, on prevalence and morality
A final thing to note, one that goes over most peoples heads – usually the ones proclaiming themselves as the smartest – is that of prevalence.
It is widely accepted and establish that the top 5% (125+) and especially the top 2% (130+) are easily bright enough to become a doctor (or doctorate) – but the figures don’t match. 5% of 7.7 billion is 385 million (154 million at 98% percentile), but there is nothing like that number of doctors in the world. For a country the size of the UK that would equate to 3.35 million Drs.
Many would argue that a corporatist and globalist world – such as we are becoming – could not and would not tolerate such an educated planet, because it would affect profits! Some, including leading think tanks, assert that this is the case.
Regardless, there is a very long list of barriers, included but not limited to health, wealth, social, economic, cultural, attitude, self-belief, self-discipline, interests, conflicts (personal, home, cultural and political), opportunity, luck…
For instance, for a single child, born to wealthy American parents, both of whom are doctors: the path is cleared for them. But consider instead a middle child, one of eight, from a poverty-stricken village in Guatemala, the mum works day and night, the step-dad is a drunkard. Well, they ain’t getting a scholarship to Harvard or Princeton. They’ll be doing well to even finish senior school.
Or a British family, well to do, good grades, but stuff happens, stuff no-one can plan for. The bright teenager planning on university finds themselves instead carer for one or more family members. Plenty would put themselves first, plenty would be pushed by those they care for to put themselves first, but it comes down to how you are raised, to bonds. The choice between what is the intelligent choice against the ‘right’ choice. Selfish, or selfless.
For some that would be a battle, one full of resentment or regret, for others – one way or the other – there is no conflict; they do what they do because that is who they are. The person they are and will become.
Links and additional reading
3 qualities of successful Ph.D. students: Perseverance, tenacity and cogency
“There’s a ruinous misconception that a Ph.D. must be smart.
This can’t be true.
A smart person would know better than to get a Ph.D.
‘Smart’ qualities like brilliance and quick-thinking are irrelevant in Ph.D. school.”
The Guardian (2018): Should I get a Ph.D
“Employing lots of PhD students is a great deal for universities – they’re a source of inexpensive academic labour for research and teaching. …
The oversupply of early career researchers means they often feel exploited by their universities. According to the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, more than three-quarters of junior academics are on precarious or zero-hours contracts”
Davidson Institute: Vulnerabilities of highly gifted children
Paul Cooijmans: I.Q. and real-life functioning.
He notes that “Regular psychology’s I.Q. tests should not be trusted beyond this range as their validity breaks down here, if such scores are given at all.”
Gifted People and their Problems, by Francis Heylighen
Developmental and Cognitive Characteristics of “High-Level Potentialities” (Highly Gifted) Children, Laurence Vaivre-Douret, International Journal of Pediatrics, 1st Oct, 2011
“Further it is discussed how these developmental advances interact with the social environment and in certain circumstances may entail increased risk for developing socioemotional difficulties and learning disabilities that often go unaddressed due to the masking by the advance intellectual abilities.”
“Indeed, it has not been demonstrated that prevalence of neuropsychological or neuropathological disorders among “high-potential” children is any higher than for average children [134, 135]. But the main difficulty resides in being able to assess the boundaries between what is “normal” and what is pathological, given the exceptional abilities for cognitive functioning (processing) among very bright subjects, where the strategies deployed can mask disorders that are nevertheless present.”
Academic problems and behavioural and/or personality disorders among “high-potential” children.
Underperforming, poor student
Lazy, lacking motivation
Identified disorders including dysgraphia, dyslexia, spelling problems, dyspraxia, attentional disorders, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness
Clowning to gain attention
Destructuring tonus-emotion hyper-reactivity
Frequent psychosomatic disorders
Willfulness and tantrums
Delinquency, drug, and alcohol abuse
Some interesting tests here, if the post peaked your interest: IQ Haven.
Curved ball via Treehugger: Slime mold proves that intelligence isn’t that difficult.