Specky geeks and airheads? The truth behind intelligence stereotypes

Ryan J Lane/Getty By Linda Geddes Cliches about cleverness and stupidity abound. It turns out that most of them are horribly wrong, but perhaps that should come as no surprise given that our thinking about intelligence is so riddled with myths and misconceptions. Is there any solid foundation to calling people evil geniuses, airheads, absent-minded professors, specky geeks and more? Evil genius Psychopaths may think of themselves as intellectually superior but, in general, they have below average IQ scores and do poorly at school. Instead, they often charm, manipulate and deceive their way to the top. Specky geek Highly intelligent people are twice as likely to be short-sighted as people who have low IQ scores. In part, this may be because they tend to spend more of their childhood indoors studying – and regular exposure to bright daylight is necessary for healthy eye development. However, it is possible there are also genes that link eyesight and IQ. Rational intellectual When asked to analyse a controversial issue, intelligent people often come up with more arguments both to support and critique it compared with less cognitively gifted individuals. They are not unbiased, however – most of their statements reflect their existing world view. Absent-minded professor Some people are great at recalling facts, but struggle to remember personal encounters and experiences. Others can dredge up details of distant conversations but perform dismally in pub quizzes. Both are normal. But the more intelligent you are, the better your memory is likely to be overall. Beautiful airhead As if fortune hadn’t smiled on them enough, beautiful people may also be more intelligent. British boys judged more physically attractive by their teachers had a 13.6 point IQ lead, and girls a 11.4 point lead compared with their less attractive peers. Mumnesiac A woman’s brain shrinks by up to 7 per cent during pregnancy and she may experience a short-term decline in her memory for words. But, within six months of giving birth, original brain volume is regained. Motherhood can even sharpen minds in the long run. This article appeared in print under the headline “The Truth Behind the Stereotypes” More on these topics:
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