One would think after well over a century of scientific advancements in learning the inner workings of our brain, finding out how smart someone is by making them take a not-quite-standardized IQ test would be comparable to testing someone for cancer by putting their hand over their face to see which one is bigger. One can judge a person’s relative intelligence based on how well or badly they did on either test, but it’s nearly impossible to measure one’s combination of intelligences as a single score. As someone who has regularly tested in the 140+ range since youth, I have watched the world around me get smarter than I could ever hope to be in so many ways, all while I retained my same level of smarts, which are confined to areas of language and remembering that my car keys are still in my work pants.
Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute in London, Ontario, Adrian M. Owen and Adam Hampshire, along with Roger Highfield from London England’s Science Museum Group, have presented a massive study for the journal Neuron concerning the antiquated use of current IQ tests. More than 100,000 people responded to an online study comprised of 12 cognitive tests, covering memory, reasoning, planning abilities, and attention spans. When combined with the background details gathered about the participants and their lifestyle, the researchers found themselves with an unexpected wealth of information. Owen, the senior investigator and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, said, “We expected a few hundred responses, but thousands and thousands of people took part, including people of all ages, cultures, and creeds from every corner of the world.” Considering it’s an online survey, it’s comforting to know the people were smart enough to use the Internet, but I shudder to think of what some of these people weren’t mentally capable of.
It turns out short-term memory, reasoning, and verbal skills are at least three of the ways people’s intelligence can differ, once given a multitude of mental tasks to accomplish. FMRI results back up this up, showing different areas of the brain used for different brain activities. It’s been obvious for years, especially in the Internet age. People who make it very far in life can’t spell for shit. Some geniuses can’t talk socially. Musical prodigies might not understand fractions. With this many billions of people in the world, how can something such as intelligence be summed up in such a way?
To round up the incidental information gleaned from the overwhelming number of responses, computer gamers were better at reasoning and short-term memory. Smokers were less adept at short-term memory and verbal skills. Anxiety-ridden folks were quite poor at short-term memory. Aging reflected badly on memory and reasoning. So if you’re an elderly smoker anxious about people making fun of you for not having played a video game since Sega’s Boogerman, you’ve already forgotten what this column was about.