Reaction time is perhaps the most physiological, culture fair measure of intelligence. If your reaction time is slow, it means your brain is probably slow, and you’re deficient in a major component of intelligence. Of course reaction time is only moderately g loaded, so don’t be too depressed if you take this test and find out your reaction time is way slower than you thought. The great thing about this test is that it averages your 5 scores for you. Maybe practice for about five minutes to make sure you’re used to the test and know how it works, and then once you feel comfortable, do an official five trials and consider the average the computer calculates, your official average reaction time.
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!
An IQ expert I know once suggested that the Flynn effect is such a difficult puzzle that perhaps it will not be solved unless a true Genius like Sir Francis Galton emerges. Well I once corresponded with someone who was probably even smarter than Galton. I estimate this person was one of the 10 smartest people in the United States. Of course that’s an extremely hard thing to confirm but there was just copious evidence that this man was ridiculously intelligent. For starters, he had scored high enough on Ron Hoeflin’s ultra difficult IQ tests to qualify for the Prometheus society. He also had probably the fastest age adjusted Rubik’s Cube solving speed in the entire world. He had a superhuman capacity to solve number sequences to the point that no one on our internet message board could even invent a number sequence he couldn’t solve, and not just ones related to math, but any kind of pattern you could set to numbers.
At one point a major psychometric expert doing academic research showed up on the internet message board with an IQ test that had such a high ceiling, that the average person would score zero, and just getting around 50% right put your IQ in the super stratosphere. Almost immediately, the Promethean responded to the psychometric expert by saying “I HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” He then added another comment saying “I don’t think your test is within FIFTY POINTS of the correct IQ. Or maybe the standard error is one hundred points!“
The Promethean was very concerned about preserving his stratospheric intellect as he got older. He decided at a very young age to never drink a drop of alcohol because he feared it would damage his brain. When he heard that there were chronometric complex reaction time video games that could supposedly make you smarter, he became obsessed with them. At first he scored mediocre, which surprised him given his superhuman intelligence, but after practicing the games hundreds and hundreds of times, his score was in the stratosphere. He believed that the game had made him even smarter than he already was. Soon data emerged on other people who practiced the games over and over again, and while a lot of people started with better scores than he started with, virtually no one could reach his maximum score, which was estimated to be above the one in 30 million level (IQ 180+). It was possible to assign these chronometric scores deviation IQ’s because the maximum score one could obtain correlated highly with IQ.
One of my best friends and I even started playing the game. I was quite thrilled to achieve an exceptional score of Brain Master +1, but being too young and immature to understand the value of honesty, integrity, and truth, I lied to the Promethean and claimed I made it to Brain Master +10! I though I was being clever, but I would later read that falsification is a sign of low IQ and I’m proud to report that I’m now one of the most honest people I know. The Promethean probably knew I lied, but was too intelligent to call me out; instead he just retreated to live among his own kind in the Prometheus society, as these beings so often do.
What bothered me was that my friend scored only a few levels lower than me, which stunned me because when we first became friend at around age 13, I had thought he was mentally disabled. In fact that was the reason I became his friend in the first place; I was fascinated by IQ as a child and wanted to test those at the extremes (both high and low). As it turned out, my friend is kind of smart which would drive our high school teachers ballistic because they couldn’t understand how someone who seemed so mentally disabled was doing well in their classes (one teacher would literally whip his exams at him whenever he scored well). I felt like whipping the computer at him when he obtained a maximum chronometric score only two levels below my own.
However I would learn that the Promethean was noticing similar anomalies. Although this chronometric game correlated well with IQ, there seemed to be a subgroup of people whose IQ’s wildly mismatched their chronometrics. This caused the Promethean to propose a very weird theory that he didn’t know how to test. The theory asserted that g (general intelligence) has both a static and a dynamic component (not to be confused with fluid g and crystallized g) and that this game was measuring and improving the dynamic component. The theory claimed that static g is the part that you can’t change and it tends to dominate, and static g is correlated with dynamic g, but occasionally you’ll meet a mediocre mind who has a shocking amount of dynamic potential just waiting to be unleashed. The Promethean felt this might explain the Flynn effect.
Well, when someone that incredibly brilliant claims to have possibly explained the Flynn effect, I pay attention, and while I found the theory fascinating, it didn’t seem to add up. For starters, I grew up reading Jensen who felt g can’t really be improved and was an entirely physiological variable not sensetive to psychological manipulation. Even specific mental abilities can not be improved except in the most narrow of ways. Secondly, Richard Lynn’s nutrition theory parsimoniously explained the Flynn effect for me. If nutrition can improve traits like height and brain size by 1.6 SD over the 20th century, then why not mental abilities? Lastly, I was aware of no evidence of reaction time improving over the 20th; just the opposite, we now know it’s become slower.
So I rejected the Promethean’s theory, and seldom gave it much more thought. But very recently, I’ve started thinking it might be true for the following reasons:
1) The Flynn effect seems too huge to be fully explained by nutrition. While 20th century nutrition has improved height and brain size by maybe 1.6 SD, the Flynn effect on the Raven “culture reduced” IQ test has by now been maybe 2.3 SD! While it’s likely that nutrition affects the brain in a lopsided way causing Raven ability to improve much more than overall intelligence, even this theory seems strained when you consider the claim that genetic g has declined by 1 SD, since the 19th century, which means nutrition would have had to add 2.33 SD + 1 SD = 3.33 SD to Raven scores! Seems like a stretch.
2) So if nutrition can’t fully explain the Raven Flynn effect, can the 20th century rise in education explain it? No. The Raven was designed to be culture fair, and Flynn found that advances in schooling explain only 5% of Raven gains (virtually nothing). So another explanation is needed.
3) While it’s true that simple reaction time has slowed since the 19th century, I’ve recently learned that complex reaction time has improved. Perhaps one can think of simple and complex reaction time as measures of static and dynamic g, respectively. While scholar Michael Woodley explains the improving complex reaction time as a practice effect, complex reaction time appears to be the only mental ability that when improved, shows broad transfer. In other words, just as lifting weights can make you genuinely stronger, exercising your complex reaction time may actually make you smarter and the 20th century provided such exercise through video games, cars, and fast paced television. Perhaps the reason why experimental attempts to improve the IQ’s of culturally deprived kids have been such failures is that they focused on intense education when they should have been focusing on intense chronometrics.
A good analogy might be fat-free body weight. This has both a static component (height, bone density, shoulder broadness etc) and a dynamic component that can be improved through exercise (muscle). Usually the static component dominates and sets an upper limit for the dynamic component. A 120 lb person who is tall and broad has far more potential to gain 50 lbs of muscle through weight training than a 120 lb person who is short and narrow. Analogously, a big brained person with an 80 IQ might have more potential to add 20 IQ points through intensive chronometric training than a small brained person with an 80 IQ.
I realize this is a radical theory and it could be completely wrong.
People who are unfamiliar with IQ research often feel it’s ridiculous to think that a simple IQ test, often measuring a small sample of mental abilities like pattern recognition or vocabulary, can possibly measure an entity as complex and multifaceted as intelligence. Well, the scientific rationale for using such one-dimensional tests to measure a trait as multidimensional as intelligence is that these test load high on g which stands for general intelligence. g is a hypothesized variable to explain why people who score high on one type of mental talent (i.e. rote memory) tend to score high on every other mental talent (i.e. verbal ability, spatial reasoning). So IQ tests don’t need to measure all mental talents (and impossible task); they just need to measure the few mental talents that load highest on g, because g predicts performance on every cognitive function ever studied by IQ researchers (and presumably every mental talent that exists).
But what if g has a maximum level and IQ tests continue to measure intelligence beyond it? In that case, at high levels, IQ tests will lose their theoretical justification and just be measuring an arbitrary sample of mental abilities that can’t possibly claim to be representative of all of intelligence. That doesn’t mean intelligence doesn’t exist beyond g, it just means that without g, IQ tests lose their scientific rigor.
How high does g go? In order to answer this, it helps to be able to measure it more directly. Eminent scientist and intelligence blogger Bruce Charlton believes (correctly in my opinion) that measures of reaction time (scored in milliseconds (ms)) are a more direct measure of g than paper and pencil IQ tests. Although g is not well understood at the biological level, it makes sense that the brain’s basic speed would influence virtually every cognitive function imaginable so reaction time likely plays a major role in whatever g is. Charlton recently wrote the following on this blog:
…I do not believe in the unity of g at very high levels – I think it breaks down into more specific abilities. More exactly, there is a maximum g – which would correspond roughly to a simple reaction time of 150 ms – and beyond that there are specific cognitive abilities added on. The IQ score will then vary according to the specific composition of the IQ test
Just as Charlton believes IQ scores don’t reflect g beyond a certain level, he also believes brain size does not reflect g beyond a certain level, once writing on this blog:
larger head/ brain size (if it is not pathological) usually goes with enhanced specialized non-g abilities – enlargement of some specific brain regions and cognitive functions rather than an increase in general processing efficiency which might underly g.
I’m not sure whether Charlton believes the g loading of brain size diminishes for the same reason that he believes IQ’s g loading diminishes or for some other reason(s), but either way, the implications of g maximizing commensurate with a maximum reaction speed is an incredibly significant insight. The only provisos I would add are 1) the putative 150 ms ceiling on reaction speed might be partly because of ceilings on sensory-motor speed and thus may not entirely reflect the maximum mental speed, and 2) g almost certainly consists of other brain properties beyond just speed and if these have higher ceilings, then individual differences in g can continue at levels far beyond where speed maxes out.
However because speed plays such a central role in g, even if g continues after speed maxes out, it will be greatly diminished.
So how fast is 150 ms? Scholar Arthur Jensen found that college students have a mean average reaction time of about 271 ms (Standard Deviation (SD) = 29 ms). If the SD seems small, it’s because they were given 20 trials and a lot of variability was cancelled out by taking each students average on all 20 trials. So if your reaction time was tested 20 times and you obtained an average reaction time of 150 ms, you would be 4.17 SD faster than the average college student. Assuming a Gaussian distribution, only about one in 75,000 college students should have an average reaction time this fast. Assuming the fastest reaction times are virtually exclusively found in people with at least some college education, and assuming about a third of Americans attend college, then an average reaction time this fast has a one in 225,000 level rarity in the general U.S. young adult population; equivalent to a reaction time IQ of 167 (sigma 15).
When I did the same analysis on choice reaction time using Jensen’s college stats, an average choice reaction time of 150 ms is equivalent to a reaction time IQ of 179. And this is using data on young adults. Because old people and children have much slower reaction times, their maximum reaction time IQ would be vastly higher.
So while I think Charlton is correct in asserting that g breaks down at very high levels, I believe those levels are so ridiculously high that this phenomenon is virtually never observed. IQ experts often speak of Spearman’s Law of Diminishing Returns (SLODR) which asserts that g explains less of the variability at high mental levels, but I think this phenomenon is hugely overrated and probably largely an artifact of low ceilings on many psychometric subtests. A lot of evidence contradicts SLODR. For example Jensen has reported that high IQ might actually be more genetic than low IQ and the Prometheus Society reported a potent 0.7 correlation between chronometric ability (Thinkfast scores) and SAT scores among extremely bright math students (though the sample size was small):
Psychologists have long noted that intelligence, along with its biological correlates like brain size and processing speed, increases with age from infancy to childhood to adolescence, before plateauing in incipient adulthood (about age 16). Thus historically, if a young adult had the reading skills of a 9-year-old, he was said to have an IQ of 56, because his mental age was only 56% as advanced as his chronological age (16+). In other words, adults with IQ 56 were thought to be as smart as 9-year-olds.
However an intelligence expert astutely caught the error in this logic. A 9-year-old only had 9 years to acquire those reading skills, while the IQ 56 adult had 16+ years. So an average 9 year old is actually smarter than an IQ 56 adult. Instead the expert suggested that more direct measures of intelligence, like reaction time, would be a better basis of comparison than acquired skills.
In a previous post I noted that modern adults (age 16 to 25), in Western countries, have simple reaction times of about 273 milliseconds and that the standard deviation for simple reaction time is thought to be 160.4 milliseconds. Now I’ve read that in this study (which I can’t access), it’s reported that the average British 9-year-old has a simple reaction time of 371 milliseconds. Now assuming that’s true, and assuming the sample is representative and, reaction time measured the same way, then the average nine-year-old is 0.61 standard deviations slower than an adult.
However because reaction time is a very crude measure of general intelligence, it can greatly underestimate the intelligence difference between groups of people, so despite some earlier objections on my part, experts would probably consider it reasonable to divided this 0.61 SD difference by 0.54 which increases it to 1.13 SD.. In other words, using simple reaction time to estimate intelligence, 9-year-olds are as smart as an adult with an IQ of 83.
So just as reaction time studies estimate modern people are about 1 SD dumber than the Victorians, by the same measure, nine years olds are about 1 SD dumber than adults. In other words, according to reaction time, the average adult today is about as dumb as a Victorian 9-year-old.
How can this be? Well, perhaps reaction time studies overestimate the intelligence of 9-year-olds and Victorians because both groups are much shorter than modern adults and thus the nerve impulses have less distance to travel. Or maybe 9-year-olds are much less developed in other properties of the brain, so reaction time overestimates their intelligence.
But even if dysgenics and mutation load has driven our general intelligence to become as low as a Victorian 9-year-old’s, better nutrition has greatly improved brain size by as much as 1.63 SD (and perhaps other properties of the brain too) and this may be creating huge gains in non-verbal intelligence. Ironically, genetic brain size has probably declined by over 0.4 SD.
Remember, general intelligence is only one part of intelligence. The nutrition driven improvements in non-verbal IQ may be greatly enhancing our technological skills, but the rest of our intelligence has declined, as we see in our dumbed down media, devoid of critical thinking skills, and the horrific vitriolic comments littering most internet news stories.
It may be hard to believe that we’ve become so genetically dumb, but as the brilliant philosopher Christopher Langan once said, the stupid don’t know that they’re stupid. And therein lies their stupidity. It also explains why so few people read this blog. I’m just too intelligent for the modern mind. 🙂