Men’s IQ is on average five points higher than women’s, according to a new study conducted at Manchester University in Britain. The study that is likely to stir a hornet’s nest is to be published in November by the British Journal of Psychology.
The British Psychological Society, which publishes the journal, would not release details, but study leader Paul Irwing, a senior lecturer at the university, told the Times Higher Educational Supplement he had found evidence to back up his conclusion.
Irwing did his work in cooperation with Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of Psychology at the University of Ulster, who has previously published controversial work on the theme.
“My politics are rather different from Richard’s and from my point of view, I would prefer it if we were wrong,” Irwing said.
obviously we are just commenting on a largely uninformative press release about paper that isn’t available yet, which isn’t a very intelligent thing to do. but i think we can proceed by accepting the basic headline that more men have have extreme IQ scores than women (and there are probably loads more men with very low IQ too) debating if that means anything or if we actually care.
first question is what are IQ tests actually measuring and the flippant answer is ‘an ability to do well on IQ tests’ .. this is essentially true, IQ tests are the best measure of some general set of problem solving skills specific to concrete cognitive reasoning tasks. that is what IQ tests were designed for.. to measure some kind of logical thinking mechanism.. of course, there is an element of circularity here. we measure it because it is easy to measure.. but it is wrong to dismiss IQ tests as completely meaningless.
measuring emotional awareness, linguistic fluency, social skills, ability to multitask and what might be called Machiavellian intelligence is way harder and the results are more difficult to interpret.. but by and large it is accepted that women are (on average) better at all of these than men.
back on question of IQ, the differences found here are at the extremes.. (more exceptionally logical men) and this ties up with other gender differences (women live longer, less prone to inherited diseases) that suggest that women are the stronger sex.. all embryos start out female and the presense of XY chromosone and testosterone converts some of us into boys, and there is more to go wrong and so there are more male freaks.. so i find it plausible that there are more male ‘geniuses’ as measured by IQ.
next question is why very high IQ is valuable in society and i think it is easy to see that as society develops there is scope and need for specialised problem solving skills. back on the african savanna 200,000 years ago an early einstein would have probably starved to death or at least lead a very unremarkable life.. the same would probably hold true for bill gates or garry kasparov.
but those are just the extremes and cases where one particular skill is valuable to some fairly materialistic measure of success.. (although i doubt there is any direct correlation between IQ and happiness.)
in our own more humble everyday lives, logical reasoning plays some part but is far from the mainstay of successful passage through life. emotional ‘intelligence’ and stability, maturity, etc., etc. are probably all more important.. it is just all these subtle and complex human traits are next to impossible for anyone to measure ‘objectively’.. people remain the best judges of the qualities of other people.. so there is nothing (new) to worry about.
UPDATE: A friend informs me that the WAIS-III test used in the NHS is actually culturally specific:
I’ve administered the proper WAIS-III on several occasions, and its my opinion that at least half the subtests are based on education levels rather than pure logic. It was quite heart breaking at times having to stop someones maths subtest not because they couldn’t do multiplication or division, but because they hadn’t been taught at school how to work out an average or how to work out a percentage. I know thats a pretty extreme example, well, perhaps a fair few of us at least (not to someone who has put in the very bottom sets and then always bunked off school) but the scale of knowledge jumps up.
Maths, language (all language sections), general knowledge and comprehension all are determined by what level of education you have got to (school taught or self taught). The top few questions for general knowledge are what is the speed of light (or sound, can’t remember), what is the world population, and who wrote Faust. IMO even the more logical tests feature skills which can be taught – practice at mensa quizes improves your performance cos you get more insight in what patterns to look for, and you can certainly improve your memory if you use it in certain ways reguarly.
i didn’t know that.. surely a large part of the reason is due to the inertia of change and the difficult of developing a properly statistically validated tests. as i understand it, there are culture and knowledge fair subtests (raven’s matrices??) out there.. but presumably to come up a complete ‘objective’ test is a huge task.
and to some extent, presumably they want to measure in a culturally biased way??
at that point you should probably stop calling it an intelligence test but perhaps it is still seen as a useful metric to have? after all if someone doesn’t know about division, fractions or percentages that will effect how well they are prepared for our society.. it must be difficult to measure verbal fluency without some assumption of vocabulary (although that opens a can of worms about what exactly is the english language) and granted the general knowledge aspects seem a bit more arbitrary and biased..
nonetheless, you would like to have some metric that you can apply to everyone, as an objective short-hand for assessing them? (sadly, we haven’t the resources or the skills to treat everyone as unique and special individuals) the mistake in this case is to see the score as some unchanging feature of that individual, like their height or their shoe size, and more a (very rough) guide as to how well they are able to cope in the wider world.. (and particularly the world of work.) do they function as good little productive citizens.. deeply depressing i know.
and you can’t have it both ways criticising the test for being unfair on uneducated people because it doesn’t measure their true potential and at the same time saying there is not such thing as a measure of true potential.
I would like to point out the built in cultural bias that contaminates any implementation of an Intelligence Quota test. The concept of intelligence is a cultural construct that is determined by the behaviors that a particular culture labels as manifestations of intelligence. Whether intelligence consists of the ability to chip flint skillfully enough to manufacture an arrow head; or whether intelligence is perceived as the ability to follow the procedures involved in finding the conventionally accepted resolution to a math problem; are all cultural determinations, and have little to do with any one-dimensional understanding of intelligence that these cultural colonialist Psychologists attempt to enact when appraising an individual’s cognitive aptitude.
Since male culture continues to dominate to a certain extent these disciplines falling within the rubric of the human sciences, I would suspect that IQ tests evaluate intelligence based upon activities that males tend to engage in and excell at rather than any neutral assessment of the intellect of an individual.
E Russell Cole
Critique in Nature.