Genetics, Interview, Neurodiversity, Science

The Neuroscience of Intelligence: An Interview with Richard Haier

Richard Haier is a Professor Emeritus at the University of California Irvine and is the author of the Neuroscience of Intelligence published by Cambridge University Press. Over his career he has used neuroimaging to study how brain function and structure relate to intelligence, and the ways in which “smart” brains work. He is the editor-in-chief of the journal Intelligence and the past president of the International Society for Intelligence Research. I reached out to him earlier this year to ask about his new book. What follows is an interview conducted with Quillette via email.

The Neuroscience of Intelligence by Richard J Haier, published by Cambridge University Press

Thank you for taking the time to talk to Quillette Professor Haier. You’ve spent forty years studying intelligence and have compiled your knowledge into a new book accessible to the general reader called The Neuroscience of Intelligence, which looks fascinating from its précis. Firstly, can you tell us how you became interested in intelligence research, and how you came about studying intelligence through neuroimaging?

When I started graduate school at Johns Hopkins in 1971, I was interested in social psychology and personality theories. That year Professor Julian Stanley was starting the Study of Mathematically and Scientifically Precocious Youth. I worked on his first talent search passing out pencils for 12 and 13 year old kids taking the SAT-Math exam [a standardized test used for college admission in the US]. The kids had been nominated by their math teachers as the best students in their class. Many of these kids scored as high on this test as college freshman at Hopkins. How they got this special math talent was a fundamental question and it certainly looked like something that came “naturally” since they had not yet had many math courses in school. This started my interest in individual differences in mental abilities, and intelligence was the most interesting and controversial mental ability.

Emeritus Professor Richard Haier

It was after grad school during my first job at the National Institute of Mental Health that I learned more about genetics and how to study the brain with EEG. All these threads came together when I moved to Brown University and started my own lab to study intelligence. In the 1980s, the first neuroimaging with positron emission tomography (PET) became available and I joined my former NIMH colleagues who had moved to UC Irvine and acquired a PET scanner. I used my access to the scanner to study intelligence and brain function, including a study of math reasoning in college men and women, bringing me full circle back to the Hopkins study. Over the next 30 years, neuroimaging developed further with MRI and other technologies that I used to follow the intelligence data even deeper into the brain.

Can you remind me what the difference is between g and an IQ score?

One of the most robust, replicated findings in the entire field of psychology is that all tests of mental abilities are positively correlated with each other. This implies there is a common mental ability that accounts for these associations. This common ability is called the general factor of intelligence, abbreviated as the g-factor. Some tests require more g than others and no one test is a pure measure of g. The best estimate of the g-factor is based on combining scores from a variety of tests that tap different cognitive domains. IQ tests usually combine scores on several subtests that sample from different mental abilities so the IQ score is a good estimate of g. The g-factor is the focus of most intelligence research, especially research that aims to determine why people differ. Based on decades of compelling data (including the latest DNA analyses), many researchers, myself included, think that the g-factor is influenced mostly by genetics. That’s key because it indicates that intelligence can be modified once genetic/neurobiological mechanisms are understood. This is why neuroscience is starting to focus attention on intelligence. 

Is it possible to see if someone is high in g by their brain activity on a PET scan or fMRI scan – and if so, what does it look like?

Our first PET study and many subsequent studies suggest that high intelligence is associated with more efficient brains; there are also indications that more gray matter in certain brain areas and more connections among brain areas are associated with more intelligence.

Since the first neuroimaging studies of intelligence, researchers have been trying to predict intelligence test scores from images. All such attempts had failed independent replication up to the time I was finishing the book and I explained why this was the case. However, right after I submitted my manuscript, a new study suggested this kind of prediction had succeeded. It was based on a mathematical way to assess how brain areas were connected to each other using MRI scans. Apparently, such connection patterns are stable and unique to individuals like fingerprints; and these patterns predict intelligence test scores. I was able to add this study to the book, but it is still not clear if these claims will pass independent replication. If so, there will be many questions to investigate like whether there are sex differences, and age differences that have a developmental sequence. A key question will be how such brain patterns change with learning.

I also describe new neuroscience techniques used in animals to turn neurons on and off to see how behavior changes. It may be possible to adapt some of these techniques for use in humans to study performance on mental tests experimentally instead of by correlations. This is an exciting prospect, especially for young investigators and students thinking about a career in this field.

Can the same methods to study intelligence through neuroimaging also be used to study personality traits and creativity?

The general answer is yes, especially for personality because personality assessment is quite sophisticated and the measures can be correlated with brain characteristics. There are already a number of studies that do this, although the brain areas implicated in personality traits seem to be mostly separate from the areas related to intelligence. Creativity studies also use neuroimaging and I discuss several of them in the book. Creativity is more of a challenge because it is more difficult to measure. Nonetheless, there are interesting findings that suggest overlap with some areas related to intelligence. This is another exciting field for neuroscience attention. 

I notice that many people seem to think that intelligence research as well as genetic research might stigmatise those who are low in intelligence. While I think this risk is real, could it not also have the opposite effect of promoting compassion for those who are less fortunate? And is it possible that this compassion could also be translated into more effective social welfare policies that would actually help less fortunate people?

Lower intelligence is a limiting factor when it comes to education, employment, and economic success but IQ has nothing to do with dignity, friendliness, compassion, honesty and a host of other positive human attributes. Access to all the opportunities imaginable will not be effectively used by individuals with low IQ through no fault of their own. There is no rational reason to stigmatize people and every reason to provide support in everyway possible.

Intelligence research has been controversial for a long time. Is it your hope that the field will become less controversial and understanding of the empirical findings more widely known amongst policy makers and educators? What do you think are the costs of not being aware of this field of science?

Neuroscience approaches have already made intelligence research more mainstream and ready for inclusion in policy discussions. For example, the single most important factor that predicts school success, by far, is the student’s intelligence. Social economic status, family resources, school and teacher quality all pale in comparison. The data showing this is overwhelming. Yet, the word “intelligence” is virtually absent from all discussions about education policies in the United States, and many other countries. Even if intelligence is mostly influenced by genes, all that means for education is that each student comes to school with a different set of strengths for learning. Teachers all know this and the common goal is to maximize each students potential. Attempts to create policies to do this without paying attention to what we know about intelligence have failed for decades, especially with respect to closing achievement gaps. My view is that neuroscience/intelligence research offers the potential to increase intelligence and learning. It’s time to start discussing these possibilities and I devote a section of the book to this.

Finally, what advice would you give to a student who wants to pursue this line of research? What are the best schools and universities to think about applying at? 

Neuroscience courses are easily found at most colleges and universities. Undergraduates can work on research projects using neuroimaging at many universities. Strong math skills help understand the image analysis methods being used. It is more difficult to learn about intelligence research because most psychology departments, at least in the US, do not offer upper division courses on intelligence. Undergraduates typically are limited to a chapter in an Introductory Psychology textbook, often written by and taught by a professor with limited knowledge of recent advances. Given that intelligence is one of the most important variables in all of psychology, this borders on academic malpractice. But, be persistent. This is a Golden Age of intelligence/neuroscience research. The questions are exciting, the technology is amazing and I encourage students to think about how they might contribute to testing new ideas and expanding what we know. 

Thank you for talking to us, Professor Haier! Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Only this: Over my career I have seen unbelievable advances in understanding the nature of intelligence despite concerns about what the data might mean. The most important thing in science is to go where the data take you. You will undoubtedly be surprised, and delighted that you have helped discover new things. This is how society advances.

Richard Haier is a Professor Emeritus at the University of California Irvine and is the author of the Neuroscience of Intelligence published by Cambridge University Press.

Claire Lehmann is the founder and editor of Quillette.

See also: The Ethics of Cognitive Enhancement

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  1. augustine says

    “Lower intelligence is a limiting factor when it comes to education, employment, and economic success but IQ has nothing to do with dignity, friendliness, compassion, honesty and a host of other positive human attributes.”

    Wonderful to hear this succinct message from someone in the research field. Amen.

    “My view is that neuroscience/intelligence research offers the potential to increase intelligence and learning.”

    It is fine to investigate new frontiers but the truths thus revealed may be fully denied by contemporary society. Ideas of human intelligence based on anything beyond the individual or outside of raw environmental factors seem to be culturally toxic today, even in learned circles. What are the best venues to apply new understandings of intelligence in practice? How do we break the hold that notions of absolute, universal equality have on our school systems and culture?

    • Jachin says

      Interesting take.

      To your first question, I think one must first consider where these findings are actually applicable and where they truly matter. This may seem obvious (as it should be), but its implications may not be. First, I think that the new intelligence research can definitely be applied to education, but in what manner and in what capacity I don’t necessarily know. Some viable suggestions might be placing students in courses that actually fit their mental ability early on, such as in primary school. IQ tests can be used to place students in accelerated courses, special attention (mentorship), and subjects not normally taught in primary school, such as computer science and robotics. I don’t think, however, that mental tests should be used to demote students to developmental courses, since I think that the courses that we teach now, at least here in America, are mentally accessible to everyone that is in primary school. The stigma of being in a developmental course probably does more damage to a student than being slightly behind and on track with her peers.

      To your second question, I think that the fear of inequality among academic circles is the main reason that intelligence research, at least the vast majority of it, is rejected. What must be done, at least in the school system, is to de-stigmatize being unintelligent. This may seem counter-productive, as students may end up celebrating the fact that they are dumb, but students need to realize that while intelligence is a large factor in determining success, it is far from being the only factor. A culture in school that appreciates hard work, as well as celebrates the cognitive ability of a student without alienating other students that do not have the same ability, can lead to school systems that do not undermine the knowledge that we have about the field of intelligence as it pertains to social success. Hard work, of course, is one of those factors that lead to a better life, though there are some suggestions that hard work is also correlated with intelligence.

      Obviously, these suggestions aren’t very specific. That was intentional. I don’t think that one answer of how schools should respond to the research will suffice. Schools will need to come up with their own responses of how to incorporate the research into the structure of the school, without alienating students who aren’t that “intelligent”.

      • howard j miller says

        Much time has elapsed since Stephen Jay Gould wrote The Mismeasure of Man, and probably twice as much time has passed since Lewis Terman’s termites filled advanced classrooms in the Bay Area. The lessons – especially the unintended lessons from Terman’s work – will have to be learned all over again based on what is written here. Trumpism is obviously a good start. Let’s hope eugenics doesn’t go as far as it under Adolf Hitler. We still have not defined intelligence with any authority; how can it be measured?

        • augustine says

          We probably won’t call it “eugenics” in the future but it seems certain we are lining up to apply relevant research findings to problems of intelligence. Will the objectives of this work resemble the rhetoric of wealth redistribution, to flatten out the bell curve? Or should we try to lift all ships on the same tide? Whatever the approach I don’t see how intrinsic (genetic) differences can be stamped out; they will be evident or possibly amplified by any attempt at improving human intelligence. The culture will have to change, or change back, to accept such natural tendencies and allow a harmony of different notes to develop pluralistically, acceptingly, without resentment or the current political victim-mongering.

          Changes in attitude along these lines can allow parents to help inform school testing and curricula. I don’t think much will happen in the reverse direction.

          • The closest thing to a politician pushing such draconian reform is Trump’s ethno-nationalism. But that is not policy-based eugenics based on standardized testing; it is eugenics based on white racialism. Outside of this purview, there is no political reckoning which pushes eugenics. Neither liberalism nor conservatives support or push that line of thinking, which is untenable to the moral, enlightened mind. Furthermore, psychologists have yet to find any genes which definitively decide intelligence, and IQ increases after age 18 in some college graduates. Indeed, IQ averages differ among peoples from Western and Eastern Europe too.

            Genes have always existed, so too has intelligence, and so too has school testing. These things themselves do not sow moral and political battles. It’s when people attempt to use ongoing scientific research to advance ideological agendas and twist society to nefarious ends.

          • I think the eugenic mechanism is misunderstood. These days the mechanism is abortion. While those standing on Prof Haier’s shoulders might, maybe, sometime be able to tweak the expression of genes in a post natal human, the easiest way to manage gene expression in humans with unfortunate genes is to throw those humans away and let the others get on with things.

            I think John is wrong about an alleged anti-eugenic consensus. There’s certainly a consensus against anything that calls itself eugenics. But selectively aborting the disabled (and in due course, humans with genes assessed as sub optimal, whether to do with intelligence or height or eyesight or anything) is eugenics-below-the-radar. It’s not a grand government eugenics plan, sure, but it’s still eugenics. Leaving aside arguments about abortion per se, the key point about society’s attitudes is that among the majority who accept abortion as OK, there really isn’t any stigma attached to choosing to abort because of disability. Or for any reason at all. There’s no reason to believe that selectively aborting those who aren’t expected to be very clever will suddenly trip a switch and outrage the public.

        • I always enjoyed John Maynard Smith’s remark about Stephen Jay Gould, both for its wit and its accuracy :

          “Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists.”

          • howard j miller says

            One must take one’s comfort where one can among the cognoscenti. A scathing quote from a peer must certainly trump reality among the ‘non-biologists.’

      • Jachin : I think that the courses that we teach now, at least here in America, are mentally accessible to everyone that is in primary school.

        If so, it just means that the courses don’t challenge clever kids. The sad truth is that there’s a real difference between what dull kids and average kids can handle, between what average kids and smart kids can handle, and between what smart kids and really smart kids can handle. Ditto adults.

        Between age 7 and 12, I went to a school that deliberately parked children in classes according to the difficulty of the lessons – eg they would have a class with maybe 65% aged 10.5 to 11.5. But there’d be a few 12 year olds who knew more (cos they’d heard most of it before), but processed slower, and a few 9 year olds who knew less but processed faster. A three year age gap within the same class of 9 – 12 year olds represents a huge difference in learning speeds. The 12 year olds had been in school for more than twice as long.

        And, since it was a small school, there were no Einsteins and no really slow people. In the population of schoolchildren as a whole, there’s greater diversity still.

        If the IQ 100 kids can more or less keep up, the IQ 120 kids will be staring out of the window or making spitballs.

        • Jachin says

          I don’t know if I see that as a problem. The average class is for the average student, and students between one standard deviation below the IQ and one standard deviation above can handle the material without being overwhelmed or underwhelmed. If we literally tried to create classes for every IQ standard deviation, we’d be spending way too much on education (and we already spend to much).

          • Lee Moore says

            Well we probably can’t reform the world’s school systems this morning, but the good news is that technology is rapidly making it much easier and cheaper to target education more precisely to the individual – both as to ability and as to interests.

            But as to your 1 SD either side is OK theory – phooey. That’s a huge intellectual gulf from IQ 85 to 1Q 115, and covers two thirds of the population. If the 85s are learning anything, the 115s are operating on about 30% of potential.

            An iQ 110-115 person can do jobs like – sales manager, teacher, registered nurse, accountant

            An IQ 87-93 person can do jobs like – janitor, packer, messenger

            If you’re putting these people in the same class, you’re wasting huge tracts of school time. Whose time you’re wasting depends on where you pitch the class.

            (Note I can’t even get down to 85, because you’re into functionally illiterate there.)

          • Jachin says

            Is there an intellectual gulf from 85 to 115 that cannot be bridged? Harlem has an educational problem. It has one off the worst school districts in the state of New York, and probably in the country. Success Academy Charter Schools, however, has had success here with the same students that the school system has failed with. In fact, Success Academy Charter School in Harlem is performing at the same level (in terms of graduation rates, state test scores, ACT/SAT scores, etc.) of private schools in Essex Fells or Scarsdale. This is interesting, because we can estimate that if the same students were being fed into the charter school environment, not only would these students have had a dramatic turnaround, it also means that they should not have succeeded in the first place. African-Americans have an average IQ of around 85, which is “functionally illiterate”, according to several intelligence experts. These students should not be able to perform at the same level of affluent children whose average IQ is probably around 115, and yet they do, suggesting that education has a lot more to do with methodologies and cultural structures than it does with “innate intelligence”.

  2. yandoodan says

    I was surprised to read that creativity studies were approached independently of intelligence studies. Surely, intelligence without creativity is an empty shell, an ability to pass tests and little more. An intelligent, but utterly uncreative, doctor? Would you really want such a person diagnosing you?

    • Not quite sure I follow. Why would you want your doctor to be creative ? I would have thought you want your doctor to be knowledgeable, conscientious, and observant. And you’d want him to be intelligent enough to apply his knowledge rapidly and reliably to deduce your problem from the symptoms. What has creativity got to do with it ?

      Even more obviously – do you want a creative lawyer ? Sure if you need her to devise a new tax scheme for you, or to come up with a new and original idea to help you wriggle out of a guarantee you foolishly gave on your nephew’s lease. But most of the time you want your lawyer to be knowledgeable, conscientious and intelligent enough etc (you know the rest.) Oh and one more thing, which also applies to doctors – you want your lawyer (or doctor) to be aware of their own limitations, so that they are not so vain that they refuse to call in a specialist when they’re approaching the edge of their own expertise.

      I don’t think intelligence without creativity is an empty shell at all. You can be startlingly uncreative and still be very competent (indeed it’s a small minority of competent people who are also creative.)
      Competence is not to be sniffed at. Would you rather have an uncreative competent doctor ? Or a creative incompetent one ?

      • For the best doctors and lawyers, yes, creativity is important. For the relatively straightforward legal and medical cases, you just need someone competent enough to offer the obvious diagnosis and remedy as you said (i.e., Occam’s razor applies). But for those cases where hoofbeats really are a zebra, creativity—the ability to pull and apply knowledge from many different places and find patterns or connections where others might not see them—seems invaluable. Think of the tv show “House.” Sure, I’d generally prefer a competent but uncreative doctor or lawyer over a creative incompetent (especially for my routine needs), but creative and competent is better still and necessary when problems go beyond the merely routine.

        Of course, most people’s individual visits with doctors and lawyers will be of the routine variety so it’s understandable that they’d see creativity as being unnecessary. But at least with the law (my field), creativity and intelligence both are probably what separate the best from the rest.

        • Lee Moore says

          Let me offer a trigger warning for you then. Don’t watch any of Jordan Peterson’s videos on creativity. He has an anecdote about having been hired by some law association to measure the creativity of the most creative lawyers the association could come up wth (by recommendation from their firms.) Using metrics he’d developed previously for measuring creativity . His measurements apparently indicated that these creative lawyers scored pretty close to zero on his creativity scale. The audience laughs. A lot. Don’t go there if you bruise easily.

          And Dr P would also be telling you that – again from his measurements – it is conscientiousness (particularly industriousness) and intelligence that are the markers of success in the legal profession. Not creativity.

    • You don’t have be creative to diagnose something correctly. To me a creative doctor would be someone reaching “oh have a headache, let’s try a rectal exam”. “Oh your ass hurts, but your headaches gone”.

      • You have to be creative to come up with the diagnosis in the first place. To go from “here is a list of symptoms and conditions” to “this is maybe disease XYZ”. Then you need creativity to think about what treatments to try. There are just far too many possibilities to come up with ideas in a straightforward mechanistic fashion.

        • Lee Moore says

          I really don’t think that’s what creativity means. I think it’s supposed to be about identifying solutions (in the widest sense and depending on the field of activity) that most people don’t come up with. And by most people, I mean most people of comparable competence, intelligence and experience. I don’t think that doctors display much in the way of creativity when they diagnose unfamiliar conditions. The doctor who finally spots the problem that other doctors may have missed tends to be the one who has got some experience of that problem (either in his practice or by being better read or by having qualified more recently, and so having been more recently exposed to the latest stuff.) At least that is my experience from the four or five occasions in my family where some other doc solved something that had been puzzling the local GP.

          A good example of actual creativity from a doctor would be something like John Snow and his investigation of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak, and his famous map.

          • It’s just not possible for doctors to have experience with every situation they’ll encounter, so they must be coming up with creative solutions regularly. At the very least, if the condition hasn’t been documented before.

          • Lee Moore says

            Mysteriously the comments system does not allow me to reply to Devin’s reply to me. But never fear, I’m creative – I’ll reply to my own instead.

            I’m not saying that all doctors have all their creativity surgically removed on being granted a medical licence. Merely that it’s not a profession that calls for much creativity. So coming up with creative solutions for conditions that have not been documented before is a tiny part of the professional life of most doctors. (I say “tiny” but obviously I actually mean “non existent.”) And even those doctors who mostly do real medical research will proceed in the small plodding methodical steps of science, rather than by any great leaps of creativity. No doubt even policemen and postmen occasionally have to come up with something new. We’re talking humans here, not robots, and humans seldom find all their problems to be absolutely identical every day, so some element of creativity will be apparent in any job, or profession, or calling.

            The question is whether medical practice is the sort of job that calls for creativity above the norm. Or even above the 20th percentile. And I should say not. I should say that creativity in a doctor is amongst the least important qualifications for the job. Way less important than fairly warm hands.

        • Chris Henderson says

          Well I was a family physician in suburban and remote medicine for 35 years and found medicine to be a poor vehicle for creativity. A doctor certainly has to be smart, careful, thorough, logical and knowledgeable – but none of that involves creativity, or at least it didn’t seem so to me. I don’t think I found anything particularly creative about reaching a diagnosis nor prescribing a treatment- it’s more like solving a jigsaw puzzle as opposed to creating one. In medicine you find all the pieces of the puzzle and fit them together. The older you get the easier it is.

          I had to find other outlets for my creativity including doing 5 years research, where I found the need to develop new ideas a refreshing change from clinical medicine, and inventing gadgets to solve practical problems another outlet.

    • Actually as far as physicians are concerned, creativity is of no importance to perform an examination, order all necessary tests and procedures and to make correct diagnosis. Today IBM Watson radiology program is far superior in reading X-rays, MRI, CAT–scans than the most qualified radiologists. It is not to far in the future when Doctors will become obsolete as far as diagnosing and developing treatment algorithms. That aside low intelligence is the major obstacle in today’s digitized rapidly changing world, there is no substitute for intelligence, no prosthesis, implant or a medicine available at this time.

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  4. Brian Mcfadden says

    ” IQ has nothing to do with dignity, friendliness, compassion, honesty and a host of other positive human attributes” — that’s a nice feel-good message, but not a correct one. Higher IQ is indeed correlated with more honesty, more compassion, more altruism, etc. It’s easy to find those references on Google Scholar or elsewhere.

    • Anomaly says

      Good point, Brian. But that may be simply because many populations with a higher IQ descend from people who also faced selective pressures that led to some of these other cognitive characteristics. If this is true, boosting iq would not necessarily cause these other desirable characteristics to emerge or increase. But perhaps in existing populations many cognitive characteristics we care about come as a (contingent) package.

      • Lee Moore says

        Or it could just be that clever people are better at pretending to be nice 🙂

    • Jachin says

      I think that you are forgetting the number one rule of social science: correlation does not equal causation. If no causal factors have been demonstrated, it is safe to say that IQ has nothing to do with these desirable traits, no matter how well those traits correlate with high IQ.

      • One line of thought is saying that it is the evolution of complex societies and interaction like communications that drove the evolution of intelligence, not so much the other way around. There apparently are ongoing studies of Orcas, Dolphins, some whales, chimpanzees and other primates pointing that way.

        Things seem to get interesting when a brain can run simulations not corresponding to an external reality at all. That opens the door for invention, but for deception too. Probably what might have been low grade brain defects proved to be of huge benefit.

        • The idea that deception could be a big driver of brain evolution is interesting…………….

      • If no causal factors have been demonstrated, it is safe to say that IQ has nothing to do with these desirable traits, no matter how well those traits correlate with high IQ.

        Why so ? It would be safe to say that IQ has nothing to do with these desirable traits if the lack of a causal relation has been demonstrated. If we have no evidence of a causal relation and no evidence of the lack of a causal relation, then the safe place is on the fence.

        • Jachin says

          Science is a rigorous process that requires laborious work and great attention to detail. What I am suggesting is that a simple correlation does not constitute evidence, nor does it demonstrate that two factors are related. There is no “safe place” in science, and no where is it acceptable to make assumptions. I am simply defending Richard Haier’s claim that intelligence has nothing to do with these desirable traits. What is far more likely is that high IQ individuals have more to lose than a person with lower IQ by acting “poorly”. For example, an engineer who acts untoward will lose more than a janitor who acts untoward, because the engineer has more to lose (in terms of standard of living). Therefore, it is in the interest of these individuals to act as kindly as possible so as not to lose their position in society.

          • Lee Moore says

            Jachin 1 : If no causal factors have been demonstrated, it is safe to say that IQ has nothing to do with these desirable traits, no matter how well those traits correlate with high IQ.

            Jachin 2 : There is no “safe place” in science, and no where is it acceptable to make assumptions.

            Are these two Jachins the same Jachin ? I’m making a simple point – there’s a correlation between IQ and “nice” behaviour. But we don’t know why. You offer a hypothesis. No one has offered a convincing causal link. So the scientific thing to say is “we don’t know whether IQ causes “nice” behaviour. We don’t have evidence for a causal ink. We don’t have evidence against a causal link. We need to do more work.”

            But you’re happy to say “it is safe to say that IQ has nothing to do with these desirable traits.”
            But that’s not the scientific thing to say. You don’t know. So it’s not safe to say that IQ has nothing to do with these desirable traits.

          • Jachin says

            Yes. I am also the same Jachin up there, who talks about education. I am pointing to the research that shows that there is no link between intelligence and “good” behavior. Yes, you are correct that my hypothesis does try to explain why these factors might correlate. I am saying that it is safe to make that claim, however, because all of the (meager) evidence that has been collected on the brain suggests that they do not have anything to do with one another.

          • Lee Moore says

            I am pointing to the research that shows that there is no link between intelligence and “good” behavior.

            Ah, I see. You are saying that there is positive evidence for the absence of a causal connection between IQ and niceness, not merely that positive evidence for a causal connection is lacking.

            1. What is this “meager’ evidence ?

            2. Why is it “safe to say that IQ has nothing to do with these desirable traits” if the evidence for the absence of a connection is “meager” ? It’s “meager” but pretty conclusive ?

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  6. James says

    Clever people also make better criminals. For example, Jesse James and Al Capone were likely smarter than average.

  7. jr burch says

    what a load of BS neuro science is not science and nothing more than psychiatry in a new title- damaging people in the name of treatment and harvesting dirty money from insurance companies and people looking for real answers to their problems which have NOTHIING to do with “brain chemical imbalances” total fraud.

    • Yes, good call, jr burch.

      Blah, blah, blah….I have a lot of really neat pictures that computer models create of brains…up to the time I published my book, there was no connection between my pretty pictures and intelligence…but next week there will be…!

      High-tech quacks.

  8. Very interesting and informative. It would be a good thing to follow up with a look at some other efforts at cognitive enhancement, including cognitive training, hormone manipulation, transcranial stimulation, nootropics, neuroprosthetics, and neurofeedback. We know that influence between the environment and our genes is a two-way street.

  9. Debra says

    Too much emphasis is placed on intelligence and not enough on compassion, empathy, altruism and honesty. All of these things are both genetic and environmental (learned). If we doubled human intelligence tomorrow it would not solve a single social problem except reduce the need for “special ed” – maybe. Doubling human intelligence might only serve to raise the bar for what is considered “retarded” I.Q.s of 120 instead of 60?? The immediate result would be garbage men and domestic workers with genius level I.Q.s who had once been content and happy with their non-challenging jobs who would now be bored out of their skulls and no longer content to do menial labor. Reducing genetic tendencies toward violence and greed would do far more to improve human society than “smarter” people. The reality is that we really only need a few “smart” people because everyone, no matter what their I.Q. benefits from the innovations and “smarts” of whatever geniuses we have. That’s the benefit of modern human society. What we need is more “good” people. The ratio of ethical, compassionate people to selfish, violent criminal types determines the character of the world and the quality of life we all experience. Creating “smarter” greedy, violent, selfish, sociopaths will not create a better world. We should seek to improve human character and compassion first, using both genetic innovations and social learning, then worry about increasing human “smarts”.

    • Carl says

      Indeed. You make the fascistic fathers proud my son. Love, Benito.

    • Carl says

      I need to add to this. So, are you absolutely equating IQ to career? Is a “garbage man” menial labor? Do intelligent people NOT endeavor physical roles, and then perhaps own similar companies? This line seems myopic at best, and fascist/demeaning at worst. You really can’t make this stuff up.

  10. Years ago I used to disparage the Godfather films ideas – that large truths were manifest in a bloody gangster film. But over the years I realized that Puzo and Coppola were right. Over time you realize that most human behavior is stereotyped. In business most outcomes come from male primate behavior – Godfather without the violence. But it’s not necessary. People can do a lot of violence to other’s lives with the stroke of a pen.

    Further, children have a remarkable ability to assimilate new languages but, I understand, begin to lose it in late grade school. People are also flexible in learning about and assimilating the human world around them but begin to lose it in their late thirties. If true, it seems reasonable evolved behavior for us and accounts for much of the political behavior of some older people.

    It’s also that primate behavior that determines how many children you have, not measured intelligence. That’s why people have some normal distribution of intelligence. Yet it’s been technology and science, produced by intelligence, in recent generations that have driven change, so improved the human lot, and allowed us to dominate our world. Can an evolved and intelligent species come to know about nuclear fusion and CRISPR without self destructing? Is that a possible answer to Fermi’s Paradox?

    The technology and science that permit us to threaten our selves and our planet are also the only way to save it, and us.

  11. Viviana Huwald says

    I have been a secondary teacher and I remember the strong opposition from almost every colleague and especially from members of the Teacher’s Union when I suggested that students would profit if they were streamed as the more intelligent ones would be catered for accordingly and all that brain power would benefit the Australian Nation as they, hopefully, would become the future leaders, whilst the less intelligent ones would be catered with individualised curricula.
    I was treated as a fascist and my teaching was hampered and made very difficult to the point that I had to withdraw from the profession.

  12. Micheal says

    What is the definition of intelligence? Does that mean that one is able to easily build a robot or create a computer program or master some specialized field in science alone?
    Does determining intelligence include social skills, common sense, respect, and other life skills such as. Ok.passion empathy etc? Quite a shallow post in .y opinion

  13. You can come up with whatever definition of intelligence you like. What Haier is talking about is the ability to manipulate abstractions. In fact it doesn’t matter much whether you attempt to give it a tight definition, because to a large extent it’s a statistical concept – which may or may not reflect some hidden something which might be termed intelligence.

    It turns out that when you test lots of people with lots of tests of mental ability, the scores on the tests are correlated. g is simply the name given to the factor that drops out of the statistical calculations. Obviously there are many human abilities that aren’t correlated in this way – including the items you list, and things like shooting basketball hoops and chewing gum.

    So “intelligence” is simply used as a shorthand for those abilities that appear to be heavily loaded on g; and the hypothesis is that this has something to do with brain structure – number of connections, speed of signal transmission by neurons etc. Why do people bother with this g / intelligence stuff ? Because it turns out that it’s rather highly correlated with all sorts of life outcomes – from job success to crime.

    If it upsets you that other things like “emotional intelligence” or “passion” or “skating prowess” aren’t included in “intelligence” then fine, you can call those “intelligence” too. In which case you’ll need a different term for those things that are highly g correlated. But it really doesn’t matter what you call it. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

  14. Pingback: Are People with Low IQs Doomed to be Left Behind? | al fin next level

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