The Predestined Termites

As a stupid person, Lewis Terman, the founder of the IQ test, completely exposed me and my kind.

In the early 1920’s, Terman, who was a psychology professor at Stanford, created a test to determine how smart a person was. The test soon became know as the Intelligent Quotient test (or IQ test).

Terman’s hypothesis, and subsequent conclusion, was that IQ is the primary determinant of a person’s future success. The study has been referred to as the Genetic Study of Genius.

An article by the New York Times details how the study is ongoing and is the longest active longitudinal lifelong studies.

The Study (as reported by the NYT):

  • Terman selected 1,521 students throughout schools in California that had an IQ of over 135, which is well over average intelligence. These kids came to be referred to as Termites.
  • Every five years (but far more frequently in the initial years), a researcher would observe the subjects life. Different factors such as their relative success, personal life, and happiness.
  • It was classified as an observational study. It didn’t have any controls, although data and perception of success could give the researchers all the baseline controls necessary to determine a conclusion.
  • The study is still ongoing. The “Termites” are currently in their 80’s.

The Results:

  • About two years after the study was initiated, Terman concluded that these gifted students were demonstrating success in their academic and personal lives.

Even though the test was supposed to track the success of the subjects, the lifespan study revealed much more data than they had initially desired.

For example, It was found that the average lifespan of subjects with divorced parents was 76, whereas the average age of subjects who’s parents stayed together was 80.

Even though the study yielded important results that went far beyond the testing, critics have picked apart Terman’s conclusion. Here are the general issues with the conclusion (some brought up by the NYT):

  • Terman’s involvement: The professor formed a relationship with many of the subjects. This relationship may have skewed some of the data. Terman allegedly used his Stanford connection to assist some of the subjects to get into the prestigious university.
  • Sons of professors, the third confounding variable: Parent professors, who have been proven to have smarter children on average due to the genetic properties of IQ, typically provide an educated, steady, and upper-middle class household for a child to grown up in. This may skew the data and cause the data to be more influenced by socioeconomic status rather than IQ.
  • Reverse Causation: Can the subjects success influence the IQ scores? This article would point at that possibility. IQ scores are typically sporadic when taken at a young age. This means that the subjects tests may have been higher when they were young. A false genius? A little Einstein imposter? It is unlikely, but can not be ruled out based on the way the study was conducted.

It would also be interesting if Terman could have created a placebo effect by telling a certain faction of kids with IQs below 135 that their score was above 135. Maybe the confidence of being a genius would propel the subjects to expose themselves to more intense learning and a higher pressure for success. Even though this could hold moral issues, because lying to a child so they have a lifelong incorrect perception of themselves is generally frowned upon, the results would make the data carry more weight.

One thought on “The Predestined Termites

  1. Michael David Harding

    Im very impressed at the topic of this post. I personally am not the biggest fan of IQ tests although I do believe resting intelligence is important leading children to the future. Something you mentioned is confidence level really intrigues me. Humans, as a species like to be rewarded and will do everything possible to be rewarded. Confidence from a personal standpoint affects me greatly. If someone is told that they are not smart enough to complete a task they will feel like if they are pre determined to fail, why even try. This following article weighs confidence over IQ in predicting success. But for those out there that think they are stupid, don’t let it get to you. There is a famous story about Thomas Edison, who is recognized as one of the greatest minds in history, receiving a note from his teacher and his mother told him that it said he’s too smart to go to school. In reality the note said he was to dumb and not capable of attending the school. If his mother told him this he wouldn’t have gone on to come with the idea to steal everyone else’s inventions and make them his own, but that is a different story for a different blog. Also we all know of the criticism Einstein faced and he may have been the smartest man since Davinci. In conclusion although IQ may be a clue to a child’s future, it doesn’t define anyone.

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