Intelligence: All That Matters by Stuart Ritchie

This book is useful in clearing away misconceptions about intelligence research that have been popularized in Social Media and Liberal-leaning media outlets. One of the most shocking facts presented in this book is Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences has no basis in scientific research; at best, Musical Intelligence may be different from General Intelligence (G-Factor) but there are mixed results even there from the scientific studies. Studies on the so-called Multiple Intelligences has found no evidence that they’re separate as Gardner claims them to be. The G-Factor generally shows that if you’re good in one area, then you’re good in others and you can improve your skills faster as a result. For instance, emotional intelligence falls into the category of IQ too and doesn’t contradict the current psychological model of the five personalities. The only possible area where Gardner’s theory might have merit is Musical Intelligence and the results for that are mixed from scientific research, so Gardner’s claims there are also unlikely to have merit.

Ritchie explains in his book that there is a strong correlation between our genes and our IQ according to repeated scientific studies, there are two more important and crucial factors that should be mentioned; the most productive way to increase your IQ is to focus on living a healthy life because focusing on one’s health helps improve our physical development especially before the age of 25, similar to research that shows malnutrition diminishes our brain development as children. Equally noteworthy is that our personal motivation plays a stronger factor in increasing and determining IQ than our genes which corroborates Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, where she explains how effort counts twice. Our genes play a factor, but they’re not the sole or the most important factor. The scientific consensus shows that IQ can increase depending on our social environment and strikingly enough – absent any form of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse – parenting doesn’t play a significant factor in influencing a child’s IQ. Ritchie repeatedly clarifies that despite the genetic influence, studies show a stronger link with motivation and good health in determining our IQ. One sad fact from the scientific studies is that there is rabid cognitive decline for all human beings in our ability to learn and process new information quickly after the age of 25, so childhood development and motivation is especially important to increasing a person’s IQ over a lifetime.

Ritchie goes on to dismiss the popularized book The Bell Curve by Charles Murray as there is a total lack of scientific research on the question of Race and IQ. Ritchie cautions making spurious generalizations due to the history of the eugenics movement; one such example of a genocide that I know of is the forcible sterilization of Native American women by several State governments within the US. All we can say at the moment is that we don’t know enough about Race and IQ. Similarly, the IQ differences of men and women have no real scientific research to back them; at best, one country’s analysis from the 1940s and it’s impossible to determine what social factors could influence the results from back then. The research itself showed that men and women of a certain country were totally equal in intelligence with men having more spatial intelligence and women with more verbal intelligence as kids during the first study and as adults several years later. That isn’t enough to make a determination or rule out social factors. The only factor unambiguously determined is that atheists generally have a much higher IQ than religious people.

Apart from all of this, I feel he overstated his case. The G-Factor is but one of many competing factors in determining a person’s success and he repeatedly admits that focusing on proper health, nutrition, and personal motivation completely trump genetics. Moreover, social background such as our economic status and the education of our community play an equally important factor as our genetic make-up in determining our IQ. I must emphasize that the genetic basis would be one’s own family and especially if your sibling is an identical or fraternal twin as that has been the basis of most of the scientific research. Ritchie explains in the podcast below that it is best to think of it in the context of our genes being able to determine the general statistical mean of where our IQ will end-up. If we eat healthy, exercise, and have a thirst for learning then we’ll end-up on the higher end, but if not then we’ll slide down to the lower-end or it won’t see any measurable improvements that are different from our age bracket. He kept mentioning how IQ is downplayed. However, from the psychology books that I read, I never saw any of the authors outright dismiss the genetics of IQ, but instead emphasize that it is one of many factors as he does. I can only conjecture that this book is meant for Howard Gardner’s fans, people who read only Social Media articles on IQ, and people obsessed with a slanted position on IQ – whether boasting of it or dismissing it.

Ritchie makes a joke based on his analysis; evidently, very intelligent people generally don’t want to believe in IQ differences and prefer to argue that IQ is either biased or useless because it hurts their sense of pride in their accomplishments. After all, if you worked hard to get where you are, why would you want to hear that it was predetermined at birth based partly on your genes? Meanwhile, to Ritchie’s amusement, the people with the lowest IQ are usually the ones obsessed over IQ differences and like to make vacuous generalizations on weak research that they misrepresent. I’ve seen such nonsense from the racist website, Alternative Hypothesis, where they linked an article about young black boys with severe cases of down syndrome and misrepresented the content that they linked to mean young black children in general.

If you’re interested in Ritchie’s work or are unsure of whether to pick-up his book or not, here is a podcast he did with Julia Galef’s Rationally Speaking Podcast.

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