Posts Tagged ‘iq’

50 Psychology Ideas You Really Need to Know

Saturday, November 7th, 2015 | Books

Part of the “50 Ideas You Really Need to Know” series apparently, this book by Adrian Furnham breaks down into 50 4-page sections giving a quick introduction to various concepts in psychology.

It is not available on eBook format, so I had to get the print.

It was pretty rubbish. I was sold on the title really need, but that is not the case. It contained a lot of stuff on abnormal psychology and concepts that were irrelevant to me. I do not need to know that stuff; I need to know about psychological biases that affect my everyday life – the kind of stuff Kahneman writes about. So when I took a quick look at it and saw “Gambler’s Fallacy” I thought it would be a good revision book. It was not.

The stuff that was in there was interesting, but I knew most of it.

There was some useful knowledge, or at least reminders in there though. Happiness tends to return to the base level regardless of what happens. Good to know if you are worried something awful will happen and leave you less happy than you are now.

In general, the summations of a topic were excellent. IQ for example strongly matches up with what Ritchie says in his recent book Intelligence: All That Matters. There is also an interesting discussion regarding the Flynn effect – do we get worse at problem-solving as we age, or are we simply comparing people to younger generations, who are constantly gaining IQ?

It also rubbishes multiple intelligences (which do not exist), though the “condensed idea” which is a one-line summary for each section says there may be multiple intelligences. I assume this was summing up the idea that it then rubbished, but it was rather confusing.

Furnham does not shy away from controversy either. One section discusses the differences in standard deviation and average IQ of both gender and racial groups. It’s all evidence-based of course, but can often be a taboo subject nonetheless.

Other points that perked my interest was that everybody dreams. Even if you don’t think you do, it means you just don’t remember them – they almost certainly do happen. Also, group brainstorming can be less productive than working individually because people are embarrassed to put their ideas forward or like to free-ride along.

Ultimately, I do not think I would recommend this book, because the material in it is just not useful enough.


Intelligence: All That Matters

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Books

In Intelligence: All That Matters, Stuart Richie presents a a succinct overview of intelligence research and where we are today.

I first met Stuart when we travelled up to Edinburgh for a national conference on how we could organise student humanist societies better. That is showing my age because he is now a fellow at the University of Edinburgh. Over the years he has spent much time trashing anti-intelligence articles and I have often thought “he should probably stop moaning and write a book about it”. Now he has, and although I’m bitter about not receiving a signed copy, it is a good read.

It comes across with a relaxed, somewhat “man down the pub” style. Though I should add that as most of my friends now have PhDs, the man down the pub is a very-well educated individual who just happens to be in a casual environment. Not someone who spouts nonsense without citing the relevant reference papers.

Richie challenges a lot of the new ideas that have come out in recent decades. Are there different kinds of intelligence for example? No, there is just one. There is no such thing as musical intelligence or football intelligence, there is just regular intelligence. There is some conciliation to emotional intelligence, but it should be noted that it does not correlate with success factors the way proper IQ does.

Intelligence also correlates with itself. If you do well in one area of an IQ test, you are likely to do well in the all. You can game it by practicing, to an extent, but who really has time to do that when you are mostly cheating yourself? Also, it will only affect certain areas of the test, which will be brought down by the rest.

IQ correlates with everything. Good health, good mental health, high earnings, education, liberalism and atheism all correlate. This surprised me as I had believed that high IQ correlated with poor mental health. Indeed, I have always comforted myself that I worry too much because I am clever, not because I am an idiot. Thanks for that. IQ correlates with leadership and creatively as well, though far more loosely than other traits.

There only seems to be one drawback of high IQ – it also correlates with short-sightedness. It is not understood why, though it may be because high IQ children read more. Just to be safe I am going to ban my kids from reading. If I have read Steven Pinker correctly, which I almost certainly have not, they will be fine anyway.

As we age our intelligence drops off a little. Bad news for me already being past my mid-twenties. This is seen in certain areas though. Crystallised intelligence (Wikipedia defines this as “the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience”) continues to rise while fluid intelligence (problem-solving) gradually drops off. Leading an active lifestyle can help maintain this.

50% of IQ can be accounted for genetically. It is polygenic, that is to say, no one gene accounts for it – there is no smart gene. The rest is environmental, though this is not really understood as, to reference Pinker again, parenting does not account for it. We are also seeing intelligence increasing at approximately three points per decade. This is known as the Flynn effect, but it is not obvious because IQ tests are regularly normalised.

This fits in neatly with what Michael Shermer writes in The Moral Arc about the expanding moral sphere being due to our increased intelligence, education and understanding of the world. Indeed Shermer also discusses the Flynn effect.

Unfortunately, there is no much you can do to increase your IQ. Any product telling you that it can is unlikely to be making an evidence-based claim. The one proven factor that does work, however, is education. A study in Norway when they extended mandatory schooling by two years, IQ went up. As they introduced it region by region, it was as close to a control as you can get, so suggests there is a causative link there.

The final section of the book looks at some of the implications and political debates surrounding intelligence research. Overall there are no differences in IQ between genders. Neither is smarter than the other. However, a 2014 paper by Miller and Halpern, looking at data from the Scottish government, suggests that males have a wider standard deviation (bell curve). This would explain why there are more men in higher academia and winning Nobel prizes, and also why there are more men of low intelligence (and as a consequence living on the streets, on Death Row, etc). Males are more likely to be at one extreme or the other.

In summary, IQ is important because there is only one kind of intelligence and IQ tests measure it pretty accurately. This correlates with health, wealth and happiness so is a worth topic for research.


As a bonus, Stuart appeared on my podcast in November 2008. It was a live conference podcast involving a dozen guests and intelligence is not discussed (or apparent) at any point during the show. However, for those who were at the conference, it is a reminiscent listen.

Talent is Overrated

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Books

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else is a book by Geoff Colvin.

I read it after I was recommended it by a friend. He is a member of my Toastmasters club and is a lovely and funny guy. But several of his talks have irked the sceptic in me. In one unlucky incident, for example, he gave a talk on neuro-linguistic programming, a field that has now been completed debunked. Unfortunately for him, I was his formal evaluator that way, and was quite outspoken in my evaluation speech!

In another speech he spoke about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which again is probably nonsense. I challenged him on it and he recommended I read “Talent is Overrated”. So, after that extended backstory, here I am having read it with my usual attempt to keep an open, yet appropriately-sceptical mind.

The central theme of the book is that you do not need “talent” to be good at something, you just need lots of time. It challenges the idea that there is a correlation between IQ and success. Research does not support these suggestions.

However, it does make an important point about the quality of practice. It says it is very important, and it is. One of the biggest criticism’s about Gladwell’s 10,000 hours is that he largely ignores quality of practice whereas Colvin stresses it is the most important thing.

The second half of the book turns into a management handbook for motivating your staff. This makes a good point that staff are your most valuable asset. However, some of it felt a little confused. For example it claims you need to have a long-term plan and talks about Panasonic’s 500 year plan. Then it talks about having to reinvent your business model every 3-4 years. How do we reconcile long term plans with the increasingly uncertain future?

The book finishes off by going back to the original topic of why are highly successful people so successful. It discusses age-related degrading of talents and suggests that while we do degrade as we get older, if we continue to push our skills they tend not to degrade much at all (but the rest of our bodies will). I’m not sure on the research on this, though I might just choose to believe it because it sounds pleasing. Ah the bliss of ignorance.

It also puts forward the idea that if you want to be truly amazing at something you need to start really young. This is probably a controversial point, that is probably true. Thus entirely justifying living out your dreams through your kids…

Talent is overrated