Friday, September 15, 2006

IQ and The Nature of Talent

Hope it's OK to pull your comment up Tim, but just wanted to think further about it:

"While, as I would undertand, no-one has ever determined precisely what it is that IQ tests are measuring, if you turn things around and use them as predictors then they are quite reliable in predicting behaviours and performance. There is an interesting (American) chart called Economic and social correlates of IQ in the USA here."

Bearing in mind your caveat that no statistical analysis is going to predict the outcome for any individual, I gather this seems to be so (see below for exceptions/possible refutations), and wonder why exactly this should be the case. Could it at least partially be a matter of reliably being able to produce the goods on the day and that this consistency in problem solving translates well into the skills required for working environments?

Having been subjected to quite a number of IQ tests during my time (starting from the age of 4), I know full well that IQ results can be completely unreliable. At various times, I have produced scores with a difference of over 60 points, which would not seem particularly useful in terms of prediction. In fact I have just done two on-line tests to see how similiarly I score, and even within a space of 20 mins have managed a difference of some 14 points, which according to this list

IQ Career
140 Top Civil Servants; Professors and Research Scientists.
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.
100- Warehousemen; Carpenters; Cooks and Bakers; Small Farmers; Truck and Van Drivers.
90 Laborers; Gardeners; Upholsterers; Farmhands; Miners; Factory Packers and Sorters.

would mean that my life course would be different. Given my own experience of this variance, I find it hard to take IQ scores too seriously as a reliable predictive mechanism across populations, unless the consistency argument holds.

But on the subject of exceptions/possible refutations to the theory that IQ will, across populations, predict success, the New Scientist this week, in piece entitled "How to be a Genius" states:

"No accepted measure of innate or basic intelligence, whether IQ or other metrics, reliably predicts that a person will develop extraordinary ability. In other words, the IQs of the great would not predict their level of accomplishments, nor would their accomplishments predict their IQs. Studies of chess masters and highly successful artists, scientists and musicians usually find their IQs to above average, typically in the 115 to 130 range, where some 14 per cent of the population reside - impressive enough, but hardly rarefied as their achievements and abilities.

"The converse - that high IQ does not ensure greatness - holds was well".
(Study from a selective elementary school quoted).

What I cannot work out, with my absense of understanding of statistics, is whether your caveat about individuals applies to the situation of predicting genius, or is this a more general refutation of the notion that IQ predicts life outcomes?

Instead of IQ, the circumstances that did seem to contribute to the fostering of exceptional talent almost invariably involved the "10 year rule"; in other words, a decade of hard and focused work in order to master something.

"Pete Sampras didn't possess more talent than Andre Agassi, but he won 14 grand slams to Agassi's eight because he worked harder and more steadily. And as cellist Yo-Y0 Ma once said, the most proficient and renowned musicians are not necessarily those who outshone everyone as youths , but rather those who had "fire in the belly".

The 10 year rule of course requires resourses: time and space to work, a mentor, support and fire in the belly - a love of what you are doing.

"Bloom came to see great talent as less an individual trait than a creation of environment and encouragement. "We were looking for exceptional kids, " he said "and what we found were exceptional conditions". He was intrigued to find that few of the study's subjects had shown speical promise when they first took up the fields they later excelled in, and most harboured no early ambition for stellar achievement. Rather, they awere encourgaged as children in a general way to explore and learn, then supported in more focused ways as they began to develop an area they particularly liked. Another retrospective study, of leading scinetists, similarly found that most came from homes where learning was revered for its own sake."

From the editorial:

The notion that people love doing things because they're good at them is back to front- they're good at them becaue they love doing them and will spend hours practising."

All in all, although the reasons for doing it are entirely different, you can't help feeling that autonomous education is coming out of this pretty well, what with there being an explicit aim to help children foster their interests. Autonomous educators set out to facilitate the interests of their children because they believe it is the morally right thing to do to, not because they want to create a genuius; but the fact that this appears to be the way in which talent is fostered seems to suggest that the epistemology underlying the faciliation of freedom is sound, and that being able to enact the theory that is active in the mind does look to be the most effective way to learn.

There's more in the article about how the talented manipulate information, but I guess I shouldn't really blow the NS's last chance of a subscription.


Tim said...

First off, you mention wide variation in your scoring. Now, I would not claim expertise on this, but... There are two different IQ scales in widespread use. Both share 100 as their average (mean, I believe) IQ base, but otherwise the scores claculated will differ very considerably at the extremes. It may be that is the reason that you have had wildly different results. Additionally, psychologists will test using very different methodologies to the written tests that organisations like Mensa run and the results they produce will likely produce some significant differences (and I guess in some cases, they will be inclined to reflect the expectations of paying customers in the way they score). Lastly, the online tests that I have seen are very unlikely to give a worthwhile result and are best treated as just a bit of fun. So, it is important to compare like with like, but as I said, if that is done, then I understand the results will tend to be surprisingly stable over time.

As to the rest, again, I am not an expert in this area but I am inclined to treat IQ as being a little analogous to horsepower in a car or CPU speed in a computer. Neither will tell you in isolation how the machine they are fitted in will perform. E.g. a Fiesta fitted with a 100 bhp engine will be a little faster than a similarly equipped tank.

I forget who said it, but I do that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

I remember listening to an interview with Ed Moses when he retired, he said that some people he had met were confused as to how he came to be so great (great is my choice of word, not his), when they had been better than him at school. His answer was that he worked harder. Having said that, it seems to me quite clear that there are people who, however hard they work, are simply not physically equipped to be world champion hurdlers. By the same token someone who is perfect for hurdling might not be cut out for tennis.

So it is with IQ. An indication potential, no more.

To quote Rocky "I could have been a contender"

Carlotta said...

Hi Tim,

Ah right, re tests and looking at like with like, though the first tests where I came out with such widely unreliable scores were conducted by the same ed psych in two consecutive school terms. (I still remember them very well, despite only having been 4!)

The problem with IQs as far as being taken as an indication of potential is that they do quite probably differ from the car engine, insofar as it is not clear that there is an enforced upper limit, though sadly the educational system seems to be constructed upon these lines.

In regard to this, another argument in the NS editorial, which I didn't mention, was that the school system discounts those who seem not to match the IQ requirements and therefore potentially waste a load of talent.

(Also, I think I'm right in saying that your quotation was the HE favourite, Thomas Edison.)

Tim said...

Yes you are right, Thomas Edison.

Who also said:

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Actually, more or less anything of his from this page would not be to amiss in this thread.

I think that knowledge of a child's IQ might be useful in helping it to achieve its full potential (some kind of indication of what that potential might be is a good place to start), but if it is being using as an excuse to close off opportunity then it would be better to ban it.

As I have commented elsewhere, I value my children's happiness above educational or career success, but I do think that achieving one's full potential is likely to be a contributor to happiness, therefore knowing what a child's potential is strikes me as a helpful piece of information. But it should not be allowed to define a child or define its future.

David said...

It was Brando's character in On The Waterfront (Terry, I think?) who 'coulda been a contender'. As I understand, Rocky was in fact a very succesful boxer.

Tim said...

Ah, showing my ignorance, yet again. Darn. :)

Ron R said...

My comment is here:

To tim - I would expect that observation of my children will tell me far more about their potential than an IQ test.

Tim said...

Ron, I am absolutely sure that you are right.

However, I do think it is useful to collect objective measures on pretty much anything if they are available.

One thing did flash into my mind while I was writing this is though - let us say for example your IQ is considerably above average, say 110.

How are you going to be equipped to figure out what is best for your child who has an IQ of 160? It is perfectly capable of hiding its light in order to please you and will function intellectually in ways that will be quite simply beyond you.

Anonymous said...

Famous golfer (can't remember who) on luck in golf, "The more I practise the luckier I am."

On the other hand Napolean (apprently) said if you want something done it was best to employ an ambitious, lazy man as he would get the job done in the quickest way (rather than an unambitous, hard working person)!

As a parent of children who are in school I hear a great deal about children's 'potential'. I'm not comfortable with the idea that somehow children should have to fufill all their potential like lemons being squeezed of their last drop of juice.

In fact this wouldn't be possible. There are many areas where i have unfufilled potential (probably) but have no interest or need yet to pursue it.

I suppose the concern about assessing potential is to do with having a system with too many children and too few adults who are interested in helping them. if you did have enough people then the adults would know the children well and hopefully have an interest in helping child realise potential they wanted to without having to resort to standardised testing of any sort. Or standardised teaching... My concern would be less with potential and more with opportunity

Sarah F

Anonymous said...

nurses and school teachers in the same category as pharmacists? lol! what a crock of shit