Dec 19, 2006

Unscientific thinking at Scientific American

The January issue of "Scientific American" carries a small item with this headline, "High IQs may help thwart post-traumatic stress." The magazine's editors and the researcher at Michigan State must have slept through statistics and lost their common sense. The study's author says she started with the premise that PTSD could cause lower IQs, but changed her mind.

Let's remember that high IQ means that you performed well on an IQ test, not necessarily that you are more intelligent - again, the author tends to disagree with me. But a traumatized child is likely to have more trouble sitting still for a long period of time, concentrating, thinking of right answers, and completing them under time pressure.

Oh- she also tried to identify kids with PTSD by questioning parents about anxiety-related behavior in their children. In homes with varying degrees of abuse, hidden alcohol- or drug-dependence, etc., parents are more likely to be in denial about their childrens' emotional state, or more likely to hide the situation. So kids with high IQs who happen to be from such homes are not going to be counted among those with PTSD.

The researcher's assertion that high IQ may help people stay out of trouble just gives us "smarter" suburbanites another reason to write off people who live in trauma-producing parts of our communities. After all, if they're too dumb to do anything about what goes on there, why should smart people try to do anything about it?

Intelligence is about much more than performance on an IQ test. It is awareness of the feelings of others, ability to recognize relationships between people, alertness to danger (which is exactly what PTSD is all about), ability to negotiate social hierarchies, and much more. Why is the state of Michigan wasting money on this sort of research?

2 comments:

Don said...

I think IQ is an indication of more than how well one didd on the test. Wikipedia has a pretty fair article on IQ. Take a look if you have the time. :)

Dennis said...

I didn't read the Scientific American article but wholeheartedly agree about the limitations and erroneous conclusions people draw from IQ tests. A great read on a broader scope of intelligence is Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence" (1995) or his more recent work "Working with Emotional Intelligence" (1998). This latter work is targeted at how this applies particularly to the work environment.

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