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Women, men, and IQ tests

A distressed student recently asked my opinion on claims that men are more intelligent than women. I advised her to view such claims with skepticism, since definitions of intelligence are so subjective and tests are so artificial. For example, the Stanford-Binet IQ test was deliberately altered to keep girls from outscoring boys:

"On the first Stanford-Binet, girls were judged to be higher than boys in IQ by 2 to 4 percent at every age; in subsequent revisions of this and many other tests, the types of items were manipulated so as to try to bring about equal averages for females and males" [Block and Dworkin, pp. 461-462].

Many of the original proponents of IQ tests were eugenecists and racists. As recently at 1960,

"the Stanford-Binet [IQ Test] show[ed] four-year-olds three pairs of pictures, asking Which one is prettier? In all cases, the 'correct' picture has the classic Anglo-Saxon features, while the 'incorrect' one has features common to other ethnic groups, e.g., a wide, flat nose and thick lips in two cases, and a hooked nose in the last case" [Block and Dworkin, p. 461].

If one needs any more reasons to distrust IQ tests, consider that Marilyn vos Savant holds the record for highest IQ. Is this woman, who has described herself as the world's smartest person, a scientist or other leading thinker? No. Her best known accomplishment is writing a weekly column for Parade magazine.

For more on intelligence testing, see:

  • The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.
  • Mismeasure of Women: Why Women are not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex by Carol Tavris, Touchstone, 1993.
  • The IQ Controversy, ed. by Ned Block and Gerald Dworkin, Pantheon Books, 1976. Quotes above are from the chapter "IQ, Heritability, and Inequality" by Block and Dworkin. The above pictures are from p. 353.
  • None of the Above by David Owen, Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

I'll also have more to say on men, women, and intelligence in later entries.



As a Jewish girl who came of age during the Christie Brinkley era, I found the Anglo-Saxon bias in the "Who is prettier" question rather irksome. But the "ugly" faces are also very asymmetrical, and I believe symmetry is considered a measure of attractiveness that transcends ethnicity. Not that there aren't Picasso-like exceptions to this rule, but I think babies (the ultimate judge) tend to prefer symmetrical faces.

Note that the "pretty" girl on the right has slightly curlier hair :-)

PS: Oops, forgot to sign my name - Andrea

I agree that most people consider symmetry attractive, but does that mean that someone who does not share this preference is less intelligent?

No... it's definitely a weird question.

- Andrea

Ellen was probably too modest to mention this, but I seem to recall that when she took a Stanford-Binet test as a preteen she tested off the scale (in Marilyn Vos Savant territory). I suspect a lot of people could have bumped MvS from the Guinness Book, but like most brainiacs they have more interesting things on their minds.


Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is a refereshing alternative to the dominant paradigm:

Gardner’s theory, published in 1983, presents a view of human intelligence that diverges from the traditional and redefines the notion of what intelligence is. Whereas traditional models of intelligence look primarily at linguistic, logical, and mathematical subject matter as a measure for intelligence, Gardner argues that these subjects represent only a limited range of human behaviors generated by intelligence and that intelligence expresses itself in ways previously not attributed to that quality.

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences includes the following areas of human behavior, or, as he terms them, intelligences:

• Linguistic intelligence;
• Musical intelligence;
• Logical – Mathematical intelligence;
• Spatial intelligence;
• Bodily-kinæsthetic intelligence;
• Personal intelligence.

Gardner, H. Frames of mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. Basic Books, New York, 1983.

Marilyn Vos Savant isn't the person with highest IQ. She was tested as a 12 years old and the results at that age are divided by age. She did the megatest as an adult and scored about 186 that is very high but not the highest.

A child is taught to draw a perfect person. This is his image of a man or woman, perfect. Chinese kids draw anglo-saxon people as well. You said that girls scored more than boys, it is possible because medicine says that girls develop mentally 4 years earlier than boys so a 16 year old boy is four years behind a 16 years old girl.


He shows how heritability is useless as a measure to determine genetic differences in intelligence between races.

Highly recommended.