Do IQ tests measure general intelligence?

On Alpha Psy Hugo reports on an interesting paper (Van Der Maas et al., A Dynamical Model of General Intelligence: The Positive Manifold of Intelligence by Mutualism).

Scores on a wide range of intelligence tests tend to correlate positively. From a statistical or psychometric point of view this creates a variable, g that merely indicates the strength of this correlation. If there were no correlation at all, there would be no g, but since the correlations tend to be high, people get excited and many of them take the next step of positing an underlying common cause (also called g). For the psychologists who defend this notion, there is a common variable (modulating, say, the way your neurons fire) that influences on the measures of all of these intelligence tests, thus creating the observed correlation. However researchers from the University of Amsterdam are challenging the common wisdom and suggest an explanation for the correlation that doesn’t need a common cause.

How important is intelligence? On Dilbert Blog Scott Adams says,

After college, I got my first job as a bank teller in the San Francisco financial district. My typical customers were titans of industry. They seemed pretty smart. I wondered how smart I was compared to them. Sure, I earned excellent grades in my tiny high school and small college, but how would I stack up in the real world? Was I smart enough to become a titan of industry?

I decided to take an I.Q. test administered by Mensa, the organization of geniuses. If you score in the top 2% of people who take that same test, you get to call yourself a “genius” and optionally join the group. I squeaked in and immediately joined so I could hang out with the other geniuses and do genius things. I even volunteered to host some meetings at my apartment.

Then, the horror.

It turns out that the people who join Mensa and attend meetings are, on average, not successful titans of industry. They are instead – and I say this with great affection – huge losers. I was making $735 per month and I was like frickin’ Goldfinger in this crowd. We had a guy who was some sort of poet who hoped to one day start “writing some of them down.” We had people who were literally too smart to hold a job. The rest of the group dressed too much like street people to ever get past security for a job interview. And everyone was always available for meetings on weekend nights.

But the members were, as advertised, geniuses. Mensa meetings are the strangest experience. No one ever has to explain anything twice. That’s a bigger deal than you might think. Your typical day is full of moments where you ask for a cup of coffee and someone hands you a bag of nails. You don’t realize how much time you spend re-explaining things until you no longer need to. Mensa is very cool that way.

However, my Mensa experience served as a warning about trusting the judgments of people who might know how to, for example, make a helicopter from objects found lying around the house, but can’t manage their own lives. Is it possible that good ol’ common sense and traditional values are a better foundation for important life decisions, including politics?


2 thoughts on “Do IQ tests measure general intelligence?

  1. Yes, I believe that good old common sense says more about a person’s intellegence than the questions I’ve seen on IQ tests. The first test I ever took I scored a 120, and I took two more after that and scored a 102 and a 103. Math was never a strength of mine, so I will inevidably have difficulty with those questions. Although those tests do measure certain skills, I don’t believe they measure intelligence where intellegence really counts. I would love to see an IQ test that does that.

  2. Interestingly, I am also a member of Mensa in Pakistan, and although I agree with…wait a second, let me see your name above…Lars Christian Smith on that Mensa members are not surely successful in practical life, yet I believe it’s possible for a genius to learn how to be smart in real life. Frankly I disagree with…wait a second, let me see her name above…Nina Foster that no IQ test measures intelligence literally. IQ tests are very valid tests and through proper psychometric investigations/researches these tests are designed. So, IQ test measures what it purports to but it doesn’t measrue some other aspects of intelligent living like emotionally tuning in to other’s feelings and behaving accordingly etc. etc.

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