The American President: Why IQ Matters

In a recent post I pointed out that Humans are Pathologically Nuts. In particular they’re forever playing obvious win-win games as if they were zero-sum or worse, and everybody loses as a result.

Now I come across this study (PDF) showing that there’s a significant correlation between lower IQ and that very type of irrational behavior.

Which leads me to ask: is it a good thing to have a smart president? The study doesn’t mention presidents. But it does show that smarter people act more rationally and reasonably.

1. They’re more patient when patience will yield superior outcomes.

2. They’re much better at choosing among different risky options–they’re more risk-averse when it makes sense to be, but they’re also more likely to take risks when the calculated outlook is good.

3. They’re better at choosing among short-term vs. long-term benefits–factoring time into the considerations of pro and con to achieve the best results.

4. They’re more consistent in their decisions–they don’t jump all over the place when the conditions are largely the same, or choose “no” when conditions are even more favorable than for a previous “yes.”

5. They’re more likely to persevere in a job when quitting has a big penalty.

6. They have “higher social awareness and a greater tendency to be cooperative in a strategic setting.”

7. They “more accurately forecast others’ behavior and differentiate their behavior as a second mover more strongly depending on the first-mover’s choice.” IOW, they’re superior Machiavels in zero-sum games, and (see #6) they also win more of the win-win games–along with the people they’re playing “against.”

Which president does this sound like? Which previous president, and which ramblin’ ‘n gamblin’ recent (vice-)presidential candidate does this not sound like?

Before you respond, let me put a few things out of the way.

Yes: smart people make unreasonable, irrational, ill-considered, and stupid decisions. Frequently. The point is that (according to this study) they do it less frequently. Save your stamp.

Yes: The pointy-headed intellectual cliché has justifiable legs. (Clichés are only clichés because they’re true…) I have almost no patience, for instance, for the post-structuralist “Theory” school of academe that the Right is also so keen to vilify. Which means…we shouldn’t elect those types. Next?

Yes: Being really smart is not a sufficient condition for a great president. I’m saying that it is a necessary condition. Anything else?

Yes: “IQ” is a kind of tricky thing to define. And there are many (other) mental skills and abilities. (Calling them “intelligences” instead of “talents” or whatever does not seem to be useful or clarifying.) But the bottom line is, some people are smarter than others. Some are way smarter. Anyone who claims otherwise is just being…stupid. Can we move on now?

What I am mainly responding to here are the criteria that many use to judge a candidate or president: “(s)he’s like me”; “(s)he can relate to my problems”; “(s)he’s not one of the supposedly brainy types who got us into all this.” And etc.

I’m not the first to ask: Who–if they’re a fairly normal (read: mediocre) person like me–would possibly want a president like themselves? I want an extraordinary president. In particular, I want one who is far less subject to the manifold rational failings that human flesh is heir to.

In other words: Character. Judgment. Temperament. And yes: Brains.



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2 responses to “The American President: Why IQ Matters”

  1. spencer Avatar

    My daughter’s comment about Bush is that she would like to be able to think her president was smarter than her.

  2. Asymptosis Avatar

    Yeah: and more reasonable, judicious, well-informed, rational, and deliberative. (Yikes, it sounds like I’m describing Dwight David Eisenhower.)

    But no: why would we want a president like that?