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Recently self-proclaimed BGI study participant and outspoken HBD critic “Duke of Leinster” claimed on this blog that World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis, was considered mentally slow by his friends. The Duke felt this was another example of intelligence evaluation being wrong, since the Duke felt Louis had a big head and because the Duke felt that a mentally slow person could never be the greatest boxer. I looked at the wikipedia page on Louis and couldn’t find much about his intelligence, other than the fact that he had a speech impediment and spoke very little before about age six.

However this is the third World Heavyweight Boxing champion I’ve heard of being mentally slow. The first was Muhammad Ali who according to the book A Question of Intelligence by Daniel Seligman scored an IQ equivalent of 78 on his armed services exam. The second was Mike Tyson whose school file classified him as borderline “mentally retarded” which typically means an IQ in the 70-79 range.

What are the odds that three of the world’s heavy weight boxing champions had allegedly such low IQ’s? That can’t be a coincidence. It implies a NEGATIVE correlation between IQ and boxing skill, meaning low IQ people are actually better boxers than high IQ people. But that makes no sense. Intelligence can be defined as the mental ability to adapt whatever situation you’re in to your advantage and few situations require as much real time quick thinking and mental adaptability as physical combat. Obviously we shouldn’t expect a high correlation between IQ and boxing ability because it’s primary a physical ability, not a mental one, and it’s a skill developed through much practice, but we also shouldn’t expect a NEGATIVE correlation between IQ and boxing ability.

So how do we make sense of all these allegedly low IQ boxing champions? For starters an IQ of 78 is actually kind of high when you consider that these boxers were recruited from the poorest, most culturally deprived communities in America. Although scholar Arthur Jensen became famous for claiming that IQ is highly genetic, even he admits that there’s an almost invisible segment of America that lives in environments so bad, that environment actually does matter a lot for this small population. Jensen studied culturally deprived children in the rural South and found that while they started with a respectable IQ of 85, their IQ’s slowly regressed to 70 by adolescence. Something in the environment was dragging their IQ’s down. The obvious suspect was poor schooling, but since even non-verbal IQ showed this massive decline, it may have been a decline in real intelligence, not academic skills only. In a previous post I discussed a groundbreaking theory that reaction time training improves the dynamic component of intelligence, so perhaps the culturally deprived see their IQ’s drop because they lack video games, television, and fast driving parents who take them on chronometrically stimuating road trips on freeways.

So boxers are recruited from cultures so deprived they average IQ 70, but since heavyweight boxing requires a lot of muscle and a violent personality (you must assault people for a living), and since both weight/height ratio and violence are related to low IQ, those who are recruited to box are even lower than 70; perhaps IQ 60, on average. So when you consider that boxers are recruited from the most culturally deprived, muscular, and violent segment of society, IQ is actually a huge advantage in boxing, because IQ 78 is probably much higher than the average for culturally deprived muscular violent people.

However even though IQ 78 is relatively high, it seems low for Muhammad Ali. Scholar Charles Murray felt the score was believable, but many others beg to differ, for example, scholar Tony Buzan ranks Ali as the 32nd greatest Genius of all time! I wouldn’t go that far, but Ali’s IQ of 78 was likely spuriously lowered by the fact that he was dyslexic (and opposed to joining the army) and Tyson’s IQ was likely spuriously lowered by the fact that he couldn’t read.

I also think that once these men started boxing, their IQ’s may have increased because complex reaction time has been hypothesized to improve the dynamic component of intelligence, though I don’t know if this is true or not.

Jensen reportedly claimed that Ali had an average reaction time, however scholar Leon Kamin claimed Jensen was wrong, and that Ali’s reaction speed actually approached the physiological limit of the human species!