Does IQ Really Mean Anything?

Do you know your IQ score?  In some circles such data continue to be a source of interest and discussion, as well as provide an admission ticket to certain exclusive circles, while in others one's IQ, or 'intelligence quotient,' has largely fallen out of favor.  Yet great controversy remains surrounding this means of stratifying people based on how supposedly smart they are, and on this week's podcast, Rick and I step into the fray.

We base our discussion on a study in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, known by its acronym PNAS.  Not tops on the hit parade of medical journals perhaps, but one in which publication is associated with a certain degree of rigor.  Plus this study tickled our fancy (or at least mine).

'Role of test motivation in intelligence testing,' did two things.  It was a meta-analysis of existing studies on the effect of material incentives (read that rewards) on IQ scores, and it video recorded 251 boys taking IQ tests and assessed their degree of motivation to perform well on the test and subsequent score.  Participants who were incentivized did better, substantially better, on the test than those who were not.  Read that hey Mom and Dad, perhaps paying your kid to do his very best on such examinations has a big payoff later.  A strategy I never tried, I must admit, and neither did Rick with his three sons, employing instead the big stick incentive.

This study jives well with another recent analysis of what defines the winner when it comes to the National Spelling Bee, a nerd show if there ever was one.  Turns out that motivation, which the authors of the study call 'grit' brings the winners over the finish line.  That's their ability to refrain from Facebook or going bowling, opting instead for studying  repetitious flash cards with virtually unknown words on them. Aka, motivation.

Motivation.  If only we could formulate such an elixir we would have the world at our feet!  Alas, monetary incentives along with promises of Wii or the latest smartphone are likely to have transient effect at best.  That may be a follow up study of course, perhaps 'Declining Impact of Cash Incentives on Sequential IQ Testing,' or some such.  Short of putting one's own progeny on the payroll, what's a parent to do?  Particularly in light of real life decisions affecting our children based on their IQ score, such as whether they're selected for certain classes at school, and longer term data associating higher IQ scores with more advanced degrees, better paying careers, and even longer life.  Short answer: we don't know.  And perhaps the best we can suggest at this juncture is more emphasis on measures of motivation and its genesis rather than IQ.

Other topics this week include the association of armadillos and leprosy in NEJM, the human goodwill and motivation (!) story of treating LAM in the same journal, and managing fatty liver disease in children in JAMA.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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