Saturday, July 9, 2011

Who's the Smart Guy?

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Are you sure?

There is a whole world of weird waiting behind the looking glass of measuring intelligence. And it's been on my mind lately. I'm not sure why, just has. I've been running low on post topics lately so I thought I'd yap about how smart we all are for a moment.

So,when we look at someones IQ results and say Tiffany has an IQ of 114, therefore she is smarter than Billy Bob, whose IQ is only 103, Right? Well, maybe.

Those of us with higher IQ’s probably hope so. It’s the one thing we can brag about. But there is some controversy about how well an IQ test works. I mean, does the test reveal how smart you are - or how much you've learned? There is a difference between the two.

I won’t get into the details much, but will only say that devising the tests are notoriously complicated and heavily debated. In the truest sense, modern IQ tests come from an attempt to determine how well kids were developing. If Timmy, my 10 year old wunderkind could score as well as a most 14 year olds in a standardized test, then he clearly was a little bit ahead in the game. Or, to put a label on Timmy, if he were a typical 10 year old, then we’d say his IQ was 100 – if he was as smart as a typical 14 year old, then his IQ was 140.

Tests like that worked pretty well, but then the parents wanted to know if their spouse was as dumb as they seemed and wanted a similar test for them too, and then things got weird. If you’re 29, but are as smart as a 35 year old, does that mean anything? No. So, welcome to the bell curve.

"Special" is on the far left and far right
I won’t get into the mathematical part of the bell curve because a) It’s complicated and b) it isn’t necessary… you just have to look at it to understand:

See, easy breezy. You’re IQ is an indicator of where you fit into the population at large, based on your test scores. The funny thing about it is, it’s just assumed that the population as a whole fits onto a bell curve just like the one pictured above. Whether we are talking about IQ scores, or foot speed, or how tall we are. People at the far left or right hand side of the curve are outliers, folks that are way smarter (or faster, taller, whatever) or dumber than the population as a whole.

So, then why is it I’ve never met a person who’s IQ is less than 120? Well, I think it’s for a couple of reasons. No one wants to brag about their IQ score if they’re looking at a 94. The other thing is that IQ scores that we see when we take a test… they aren’t really accurate. And they’re probably too high.

What? You mean that 167 you got on that online IQ test you took last month, right before they offered you exclusive membership to a high IQ society for $75 a year, might not be accurate? That’s a given. But even if we take a honest to goodness, real life, really hard, IQ test, and score a whopping 130 on it. That might not be your IQ.

Why? Because you have to fit on that bell curve. Not a lot of folks score a 130 – something like 1 out of 50 folks are that smart. If too many people are scoring high, then your IQ is ‘normalized’, which means your score might be 130 – but you really are a 122.


Anyway, the real reason any adult wants to know their IQ should be so they can look down on people that have lower scores than they do. So if you don't know yours then carve out a few minutes to take one online, then take your number, look it up on this chart so you can see how rare your intelligence is in the world. Then fell good about yourself.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've taken the authentic IQ test as well as two online. Either they all lied or I really am higher than average. (And if they lied, I'm not about to tell my wife! Let her think I'm a genius.)

Andrew said...

To make things a bit more complicated, IQ tests focus only on specific areas of intelligence. The areas that deal with math, basically. And, to some degree, language. Newer research, though, recognizes 7 different areas of intelligence.

IQ also tends to decline with age. Not because we get "dumber" but because we tend toward unlearning.

Very interesting stuff.

Rogue Mutt said...

I've never taken an IQ test. I'm not sure I want to know what the results would be.

Danette said...

"Anyway, the real reason any adult wants to know their IQ should be so they can look down on people that have lower scores than they do." There you go! Cheers, ~db

Rusty Webb said...

Alex - I would expect you, and several others, to score higher than average anyway. In fact, I'd wager that folks that write, blog, enjoy technology, etc, probably, as a group, are a bit higher than the average anyway.

Andrew - I used to have prof in college that consulted on the creation of IQ tests and he shared a few stories about the work they put into trying to gauge your reasoning without envoking higher math. Since a good IQ test doesn't require anything beyond basic math and a whole lot of problem solving. He said they've had to scrap a lot of questions because of that.

But most modern tests, and a some older ones, do have sections dedicated to abstract thinking, which some folks think is a better test of intelligence than all the other sections.

Rogue - I'm sure you would do well. I've seen somewhere where they've taken the average IQ of different professional groups and among them I think accountants did pretty well.

Danette - I say it tongue in cheek, but I bet there's a lot of truth in that.

Andrew said...

Yeah, many of the good tests do test your problem solving ability apart from math, but, in effect, they are still testing the "math" part of your brain when they do that.

I probably can't remember all 7 areas off the top of my head, but let's give it a go:
1. Math/Logic
2. Linguistic
3. Art/Spatial
4. Music
5. Kinesthetics (the body's physical intelligence)
6. self-awareness
7. awareness of others (empathy)

Okay, so I did remember all of them. At any rate, IQ tests invariably test only in the math/logic area. Which makes sense in that that's what schools/businesses want. Still, it would be good if these other areas started getting recognized outside of academia.

Nancy said...

There's a great book called "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell that you have probably heard of and one of the categories he discusses is IQ. It seems the smartest of the lot of us isn't the most successful. I also have no idea of my IQ and have always hoped it was high but feared mediocrity. After all, beyond middle school when no one wants to stand out, do any of us want to be right in the middle of the bell?