Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Raise Our I.Q.

Nicholas Kristof on how to raise the collective US I.Q. one billion points:

Poor people have I.Q.’s significantly lower than those of rich people, and the awkward conventional wisdom has been that this is in large part a function of genetics.

If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, “Intelligence and How to Get It,” which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.

One gauge of that is that when poor children are adopted into upper-middle-class households, their I.Q.’s rise by 12 to 18 points, depending on the study. For example, a French study showed that children from poor households adopted into upper-middle-class homes averaged an I.Q. of 107 by one test and 111 by another. Their siblings who were not adopted averaged 95 on both tests.

Another indication of malleability is that I.Q. has risen sharply over time. Indeed, the average I.Q. of a person in 1917 would amount to only 73 on today’s I.Q. test. Half the population of 1917 would be considered mentally retarded by today’s measurements, Professor Nisbett says.

Professor Nisbett strongly advocates intensive early childhood education because of its proven ability to raise I.Q. and improve long-term outcomes. The Milwaukee Project, for example, took African-American children considered at risk for mental retardation and assigned them randomly either to a control group that received no help or to a group that enjoyed intensive day care and education from 6 months of age until they left to enter first grade.

By age 5, the children in the program averaged an I.Q. of 110, compared with 83 for children in the control group. Even years later in adolescence, those children were still 10 points ahead in I.Q.

Another proven intervention is to tell junior-high-school students that I.Q. is expandable, and that their intelligence is something they can help shape. Students exposed to that idea work harder and get better grades. That’s particularly true of girls and math, apparently because some girls assume that they are genetically disadvantaged at numbers; deprived of an excuse for failure, they excel.
In the new economy I.Q. is critical to national competitiveness and raising the standard of living. Anything we can do to raise I.Q. sounds good to me.


Audacious Epigone said...

God this is tired bunk. First of all, to say that the conventional wisdom in the popular media is that intelligence is primarily hereditary is absurd. Guys like Watson and Summers are pilloried for insinuating as much. For those of us who aren't superstars of the left, it's exponentially worse. Gould is the 'conventional wisdom', not Murray or Rushton.

Secondly, Nisbet has demolished nothing. He has not overturned MRI scans of cranial size or the differences in microcephalin by population.

Thirdly, those adoption gains in IQ are gone by the age 18-20. Notice at the age of 5, those black kids had a 27 point advantage in IQ. By adolescence, it was only 10 points. By adulthood, it's gone. And without fail, even in childhood, poor adopted children still always have lower average IQs than their adoptive parents' biological children do. No one argues that intelligence is 100% hereditary, but fools like Kristof apparently are trying to create the perception that intelligence is 100% environmental.

Fourthly, the so-called Flynn effect (which was actually discovered by Richard Lynn), apparently stopped in the developing world three decades ago and slowed globally. It is probably the result of reaching some minimal nutritional threshold. Iodine and vitamins are probably the most humane things we can give to sub-Saharan Africans at the current time.

Fifthly, the last paragraph is just tripe. Females consistently score lower on math scholastic math tests from elementary school to post-secondary education. Girls tend not to be as interested in math and science as boys are, so this shouldn't be seen as a problem if personal fulfillment and liberty were our goals. But forced egalitarianism trumps them. We should make sure more men become nurses and ballerina dancers, too.

Fat Knowledge said...

Well, you know the IQ literature better than I, so it I won't disagree with you there. :)

Of course IQ isn't 100% environmental, but why not focus in on trying to improve IQ in this way, as it is the easiest to implement? I would still prefer having the government focus on trying to improve people's IQs early in life rather than trying to decrease inequality through increased welfare or grater unionization later in life.

On the last paragraph, I too am skeptical that telling people that IQ is expandable helps them to get better grades, but if it does, why not do it? Seems cheap to implement. Maybe it doesn't get back to parity, but if it allows some to do better, sounds good to me.

And while I agree with you that personal fulfillment and liberty should be more important that trying to get a gender balance in each major, I wonder if majors that are dominated by one gender scare off those that would want to study it, but don't want to be a token. If, lets say the "natural balance" of computer science majors is 30% female and 70% male, but many women don't want to be outnumbered so the classes end up being 15% female and 85% male. So, a bit of affirmative action could be used to get women that have a natural desire to study that subject but don't want to be in the minority.

And while I don't really care if more men become ballerina dancers (I assume you were taking a swipe at Rahm Emanuel on that one :)), I think there is a good chance that society would be better off with more male K-6 teachers. I also think having more women in computer science professions could be helpful as well to add a different perspective. Not that the goal should be 50-50 splits in these professions just that they should be less dominated by one sex then they currently are.

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