Sexing Intelligence

Friday, August 26, 2005

Sexing Intelligence

By way of Atrios we learn that there is a provocative new British study that I'm sure we'll hear about ad nauseum.
Academics in the UK claim their research shows that men are more intelligent than women. A study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology says that men are on average five points ahead on IQ tests.

Paul Irwing and Professor Richard Lynn claim the difference grows when the highest IQ levels are considered.

Their research was based on IQ tests given to 80,000 people and a further study of 20,000 students.

Dr Irwing, a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester University, told the Today programme on BBC Radio Four the study showed that, up to the age of 14, there was no difference between the IQs of boys and girls.

"But beyond that age and into adulthood there is a difference of five points, which is small but it can have important implications," he said.

"This is against a background of women dramatically overtaking men in educational attainment and making very rapid advances in terms of occupational achievement."

The academics used a test which is said to measure "general cognitive ability" - spatial and verbal ability.

As intelligence scores among the study group rose, the academics say they found a widening gap between the sexes.

There were twice as many men with IQ scores of 125, for example, a level said to correspond with people getting first-class degrees.

At scores of 155, associated with genius, there were 5.5 men for every woman.

Nobel prize-winners

Dr Irwing told The Times the differences "may go some way to explaining the greater numbers of men achieving distinctions of various kinds, such as chess grandmasters, Fields medallists for mathematics, Nobel prize-winners and the like".

The paper will argue that there is evidence that at the same level of IQ, women are able to achieve more than men "possibly because they are more conscientious and better adapted to sustained periods of hard work".
There are a myriad of things wrong with all of this. First of all, IQ tests themselves only measure certain things, that they are limited in measuring something as complicated as intelligence. Unfortunately I think that most people make a lot of assumptions about IQ tests, that they test innate, natural abilities and have little to do with environment or culture. I think the average person is not aware of how truly controversial they are in academia.

Putting the question of the legitimacy of IQ tests themselves aside, I also find it troublesome because of how the results are being packaged. Frankly, I'm all for people trying to understand if and how our brains are different based on sex, which would have been a perfectly acceptable way to characterize these findings. But to conclude that men are "smarter" instead of "different" strikes me as a very limited way of thinking about such a complicated matter. This leads me to wonder about the researchers themselves, because they certainly have a lot of options about the way to present their findings to the world. They don't seem to concern themselves with the possibility that these findings could be used to justify unequal treatment of men and women. In fact they seem to imply in their comments that as women "overtake" men in certain areas that the area is in danger of being weakened overall. Or perhaps they didn't realize that? Just how smart are they? What are their IQs? Lastly, is it at all a coincidence that the people who make these conclusions are men?

I suppose as a woman with an IQ above 125, I guess I should relish the fact that I'm among the minority of women who fall into this category. However, stereotypically, my IQ is not at all reflected in my mathematical abilities. (I'm studying for the GRE, so I'm acutely aware of this right now.) Although I do have a sister who is about to finish her third year of medical school and who already has a MS in genetics under her belt. (Granted her IQ easily qualifies her for a Mensa membership.) However, while we do come from the same familial environment we did not spring from the same gene pool. But we're both female, gifted in different areas. But she came from long line of people who are brilliant in science and math, whereas my family is much more verbal and inclined towards the arts. Think that might have anything to do with the differences between our IQs?

One last word, the part where they say that women "are more conscientious and better adapted to sustained periods of hard work" is pure poppycock. I find it difficult to say that either sex is better adapted to long sustained periods of hard work. Historically I think that burden has been shared pretty equally by both sexes, just in varying spheres.

(Cross-posted at Carpetbagger Report.)

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