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The 7 Tribes of Intellect
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Now that we have some British politicians talking about IQ it seems the right time to rush out a summary I was slowly preparing about the lives and achievements of different intelligence bands. Please accept this as a general overview, subject to revision, to which more illustrative details and precise boundaries will be added at a later date.

Tribe 1 “High Risk”

These are the least able 5% of the population. In a town of 10,000 persons these would constitute 500 citizens. Learning is slow, so all intellectual achievements take a fair bit of time. Since all lifespans are finite, and for this group lifespans are shorter than average, many skills are effectively out of reach because it is very unlikely that they will ever be learnt. Of course, some learning always takes place, because everyone can learn, but in their case the pace must be slow, the materials simple, and the steps carefully supervised.

Lifespans are more than 21% shorter than average, and they are more than 50% more likely to be suffering psychological difficulties than average. They are most at risk of all health problems, and all the problems of life.

These people are “high risk” because they make unforced errors and because they are at risk of being exploited by the unscrupulous. They are less likely to follow rules (perhaps they cannot see the point of them) or to delay gratification, and more often than average to wind up in trouble. They have high levels of credulity, tend to believe in god and magic and coincidence and miracles. Vocabularies are relatively mall, not much above the functional basics of the language. As a rule of thumb, if you understand the 3000 most frequent English words then you will understand 95% of the words in common use. If you understand 5000 words (and their close variants) you get 99.9% word coverage in ordinary language. Computations are restricted to simple operations, mostly addition and subtraction.

They can sign their name and add up the total of bank deposit entries. They can do basic concrete tasks. In terms of reading and entertainments they like stories, picture magazines, music with strong melodies and rhythms, and broad comedy. (Later we can get into the details about what entertainments and materials are favoured). Employment opportunities, which would have been plentiful in simpler agrarian societies, are now far more limited, tenuous, and precarious. Modern life has become very demanding, and simple physical labour no longer adds much value. Their wages will be low, and in kinder and wealthier societies they are likely to be receiving social benefits. The armed services will not recruit them. They have frequent periods without paid work. They will have no effective savings.

There is little about their appearance which would indicate limited intellectual power, and their social conversation is usually in line with basic social niceties. It would take more somewhat more extensive conversations to reveal shortcomings. They can use mobile phones and drive cars, though they would have difficulty with the driving theory exam. They would also crash about three times more often than average. They are very recognisably our cousins, much more like us than not. In IQ terms they are 75 and below.

Tribe 2 “Uphill Battle”

These are the next 20% of the population in terms of ability. They would be 2,000 citizens in the town of 10,000 inhabitants. Learning is somewhat faster, and achievements are of better quality. Learning varies from the slow pace, simple materials and careful supervision already mentioned previously, to very explicit, hands-on training. They tend to credulity, belief in god and superstition. They can locate the intersection of two streets on a map, identify two features in a newspaper sports story, perhaps calculate the total cost of purchases listed in a catalogue, and draw inferences from two identifiable facts and deal with some distractors.

Vocabularies are somewhat larger, computation includes some multiplication and division. In terms of reading they will enjoy a little more depth in terms of content. Employment opportunities include simple assembly and packaging tasks, food preparation, assistant roles in caring professions. They can use some checklists, and procedural guides. The armed services will probably not recruit them, because many of them will take too long to train.

They have a 21% lower survival up to age 76 (Whalley&Deary 2001). They have about a 50% greater risk of hospitalization for schizophrenia, mood disorder, and alcohol-related disorders (Gale et al. 2010) and for personality disorders (Moran et al. 2009) with more self-reported psychological distress (Gale et al. 2009) and with a greater risk of vascular dementia (McGurn et al. 2008).

They will probably have fast lifestyles, with restricted planning and savings. They have more accidents than average, probably twice as many motor vehicle accidents than average. In IQ terms they are between 75 and 90.

Tribe 3 “Keeping Up”

These are the middle 50% of the population. They are the “average” the “man in street” the person with “common sense”. By definition, this is what most people are like. In our town of 10,000 they would constitute a massive 5,000 persons. The town would be built round them, their abilities, their needs, and their frailties. In the way that clothes are mass produced for average sizes and fashions, the town would be made to their taste. The money would follow them. Films, TV, books, magazines, and newspapers are written for them.

Learning is mostly mastery learning, hands on. The brighter ones learn from written materials plus experience. They can deal with tasks which require the integration of multiple pieces of information from one or more documents, which themselves may be complex and contain much irrelevant information. However, the matches they are asked to search for tend to be literal, and the correct information in the test material is not located near incorrect material, where it would be too confusing.

They are almost always able to calculate the total costs of purchases from an order form; write a brief letter explaining an error made on a credit card bill; and using a calculator, work out what the discount would be on a bill if paid within 10 days; enter information into a car maintenance record; and perhaps be able to state in writing the argument made in lengthy newspaper article. Vocabularies are in the 17,000 to 21,000 range, with older people in the upper part of the range.

They may believe in god, have some superstitions, be fooled by some coincidences, have difficulty in calculating some odds, but are usually adept at using rules of thumb and avoiding confidence tricks and deceptions. They know that magic depends on tricks, even if they cannot explain them. Their understanding of science will be basic and subject to omissions. They can catch out brighter people in errors, and tend to be pragmatic, with little theory. However, they may believe that day and night are due to the earth going round the sun.

They occupy the middle range occupations, in what used to be clerical trades, and sales jobs of all descriptions. Likely jobs are Police officer, nurse, trainer, and when the job was still available in the economy, machinist. They will delay gratification to some extent, and have some savings. Incredibly, in modern welfare states they would only just be net contributors in tax terms, but would mostly get benefits in almost equal proportion to their tax contributions.

As you would expect, motor vehicle accidents are at the average rate. In IQ terms they are between 90 and 110.

Tribe 4 “Out Ahead”

These are the fortunate next 20% of the population. Prospects look better. Learning can now take place in the college format, with lectures and reading lists and set work, though this needs to be well structured and frequently tested. In the brighter part of the range students will gather and infer their own information. They can deal with tasks which require more inferences, multiple-feature matches, integration and synthesis from complex passages or documents, and the use of multiple sequential operations. They could use a bus schedule to determine the appropriate bus for a given set of circumstances; using an eligibility pamphlet, they are able to calculate the yearly amount a couple would receive in basic supplementary security income; and perhaps be able to use a table comparing credit cards to identify the two categories used and to write down two differences between them. Vocabularies are very roughly in the 20,000 to 30,000 range, depending on age.

Their entertainments include more content and complexity. They read about politics, science, history, at least at newspaper level.

Occupations like manager, teacher and accountant are achieved. They would be net contributors to modern welfare states, probably equivalent to supporting an extra household, and very probably have some savings of their own. Motor vehicle accidents are at the average rate. In IQ terms they are between 110 and 125.

Tribe 5 ”Yours to Lose”

These are the top 5%. If you are fortunate enough to be in this category, the world is your oyster, unless you blow it by getting drunk, or by imagining that you are so bright that no further work is required, or you go off the rails into being some sort of clever fool, due to some personality difficulty.

Learning will be based on gathering and inferring own information. There may be lectures, but these are optional, with less frequent feedback on results, and more autonomy in learning. Learners are expected to search for faults in what they are taught.

They can deal with tasks which require the application of specialised background knowledge, dis-embedding the features of a problem from a text, and drawing high-level inferences from highly complex text with multiple distractors. They can almost certainly do the previous credit card comparison task; they can summarise from a given text two ways in which lawyers may challenge prospective jurors; and, using a calculator, determine the total cost of carpet to cover a room, given the dimensions of the room and the cost per square yard of carpeting. (There you are, at the apotheosis of intellect. You can challenge a juror and carpet a room). Their occupations will include the professions, the sciences and, with experience and application, the top posts in business and government. Entertainments will include most artistic and literary endevours, and theories will be seen as interesting in themselves. Vocabularies are in the 30,000 to 42,000 range, which is probably as high as you can go without using lots of technical terms. In modern welfare states they would be high net contributors, very probably supporting two or even three households in addition to their own, and have property and savings. In IQ terms they are 125 and above.

Five tribes are all you need

And that, dear folks, is it. In a representative sample of people there is a fivefold difference in learning speed, and in intellectual power. Five tribes of humanity are all you need know about. These are the facts, when you come to brass tacks, with which all civilizations must grapple, making whatever choices are required to deal with these natural differences. You can let wages find their own level, or regulate them, or tax them and distribute benefits. If you direct the brightest to the hardest tasks you will solve problems quickly. If you prevent them from doing those tasks progress will be slower. Societies sometimes trust people bright people, sometimes resent and ignore them. Genocides are frequently targeted on them, particularly because they are minorities who generate wealth and exercise social power and influence, and have prestige.

So, good night, and thanks.

Now that most people have gone away to read lighter material, we can get to the strong stuff, offered to you in a discreet brown paper envelope. Readers of this blog will know that the top 5% doesn’t really amount to much. For example (and now we can do big numbers, being the clever sort of persons we are) being in the top 5% means that in 10,000 persons you would have to share this accolade with 500 other people. Hardly an exclusive club. Some of them would have odd ideas and a thoroughly improper understanding of moderately complicated concepts. Some of them will fail to understand sampling theory, simple statistics, structured equation modelling and factor analysis for a start, and many of them will be subject to foolish delusions and be mired down with considerable ignorance. It was said of an Oxbridge professor that he was overheard chastising his ten year old son thus: “No, no, no, my child! You have totally misunderstood the Medieval Papacy”. People can be a disappointment.

We must draw some distinctions so as to refine this top 5% lump of common or garden intellects into more closely graded achievements. Therefore, within the top 5% we can find two smaller categories. The final category has quite a range to it, if observed closely, but 7 is as far as most of us can count.

Bright the top 1% (100 in 10,000) They are the upper half of the brightest students at the most prestigious universities. They get better degrees, solve more problems, and gain the respect of those for whom the same tasks take lots of time to complete. They are more likely to get doctorates in hard subjects, more likely to publish, more likely to obtain patents and to own businesses.

Vocabularies are in the 35,000 to 42,000 range and most intellectual tasks are within their grasp, although they have many techniques to learn, particularly in maths and science. However, one should not get too precious about being “bright”. The United Kingdom has 650,000 such persons, most of them walking about unsupervised. In IQ terms they are 135. You can call anyone above IQ 130 the Two Sigmas, because they are two standard deviations above the mean.

Eminent (or Scary Bright) the top 0.01% (1 in 10,000) There would be one such person in our town. The town’s progress might depend on whether they are able to contribute their ideas and see them implemented. More likely, they will leave town and search out other eminent people just for the fun of exchanging ideas. Their vocabularies will be above 40,000 words. They are unlikely to believe in gods or superstitions, and can calculate coincidences. (Dick Feynman used to begin his lectures by saying: “As I parked my car today I noticed that the licence plate of the car in front of me was 79346229. What’s the chance of that?”). They may be seen as unconventional, and can be difficult to understand. In IQ terms they are 155. Call them the Three Sigmas.

When such eminent intellects leave town, they soon learn that they are not that bright. After all, even the United Kingdom has 6,500 of them, and they soon work out which the really bright ones are. So, for really interesting minds, we are looking at those who, in open competition, tested on very hard subjects, can show other scary bright people that they are closer to 1 in a million. In IQ terms this would be 160, but it would be simpler to say that they are well above conventional testing limits. Call them the Four Sigmas.

Think of Bertrand Russell going up to Cambridge University and finding very few intelligent people there, but later observing that every conversation with John Maynard Keynes was exhausting, and noting he always came away feeling defeated. Or consider John Von Neumann, (from Steve Hsu’s very good account) who made fundamental contributions in mathematics, physics, nuclear weapons research, computer architecture, game theory and automata, and also had formidable powers of mental calculation and a photographic memory. Laureate Eugene Wigner who knew Planck, Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Albert Einstein ranked von Neumann the highest in intellect, and the aforementioned luminaries did not question this judgement. A little uncharitably, Enrico Fermi said to Herb Anderson, with whom he ran the first ever nuclear reaction: “You know, Herb, how much faster I am in thinking than you are. That is how much faster von Neumann is compared to me”. Laureate Hans Bethe, whom I revere, went so far as to say: “I always thought Von Neumann’s brain indicated that he was from another species, an evolution beyond man”.

For general purposes, five tribes suffice. For interesting stuff, seven tribes is the better account and even then, at the higher levels, pay close attention to the order of precedence within eminent minds. For society what matters is the ease of communication between intelligence bands, the speed with which such minds can be identified and engaged in difficult tasks, and the social relations between those who differ in this important characteristic, whilst sharing so much else.Disclaimer. The above results are largely from the US and the results are mostly from the 1993 data on National Literacy with some later findings, and my main source has been Linda Gottfredson’s papers on this subject. For simplicity of exposition, I have conformed to the requirements of the current research apartheid, in which group differences between genetic groups are not reported. More recent US results include recent immigrants, and so the results may be unfair to them (not yet integrated), and by implication, to the locals as well (overall results dragged down). Results are less good for African Americans. Prof Linda Gottfredson is updating all these findings, and I will let you know when her next version is out. The account above is mostly based on white people in the USA. It would be suitable for Britain and the former British colonies which, wherever they are in the world, seem to have retained their Greenwich Mean IQ of 100. Neither the heat of the tropics nor vast spaces of the prairies or the outback, nor even far flung golf clubs and Gilbert and Sullivan societies have dented their intellect. Curious what insults the human brain can survive.

• Category: Science • Tags: Classic, IQ 
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  1. Anonymous [AKA "The Wistful Pelleastrian"] says: • Website

    Professor Thompson,

    Thanks for this very helpful blogpost.

    I have one question about this line:

    "In terms of reading and entertainments they like stories, picture magazines, music with strong melodies and rhythms, and broad comedy"


    Could you elaborate?

    What does aesthetic sensitivity have to do with cognitive ability?

    I'm not sure there is any connection at all.

  2. In Part 2, perhaps the variations in fertility between the tribes could be discussed, with implications for future societal functioning and prosperity.

    Thanks for this; it is just what I've been looking for recently, particularly for middle-class friends who have remained in a resolutely middle-class bubble their entire lives and are not capable of imagining what life is like outside the insular world of average-to-high IQs. That insularity is a far bigger social problem than is widely recognized, I think.

    It is good also to see some indications of hard data in the key area of educability, which outside of the military does not seem to have been sufficiently studied. It would be good to do/find more research on what persons at more finely graded levels of IQ can learn (plus rates of learning and support needed) given reasonably optimal tuition for rigorous, g-loaded subjects such as Maths.

  3. @Anonymous

    This will have to wait for the next version. Aesthetic tastes vary, and there is now data looking at Facebook "likes" and educational achievements, which allows a rough and ready estimate of intelligence according to what sort of materials, TV shows, films and so on people enjoy. The latest version of National Literacy has more detail on reading habits. I have already posted on some of the literature reading studies.. You have to be able to understand insights and arguments before you can enjoy them. For example, "xkcd" makes me laugh out loud, but I can see that many people would find it boring, or somewhat obscure. Rindermann and I mentioned this in one of our papers, looking at the sorts of museums and exhibitions parents visited with their children, and looking at the intellectual content of the descriptions and explanations offered. So, in answer, aesthetic sensitivity is predicated on a pretty high level of cognitive ability.

  4. Yes, there is lots more we can add, but we will start by giving far more details about the sorts of tasks that can be done, and the materials which people search out and feel comfortable with. So much to do!

    • Replies: @Nicholas Lederer
  5. dearieme says:

    "nor even far flung golf clubs and Gilbert and Sullivan societies have dented their intellect": well, there is the counteracting effect of Caledonian Societies and Burns' Clubs.

  6. dearieme says:

    Tribe 5 and higher were pretty much the people who went to university when I did.

  7. @Anonymous

    If you want a good overview of how psychological traits overlap and are related (or not), get Spent by Geoffrey Miller. It gives a quick, but good overview of modern personality psychology (among other things). And it is so insightful and entertaining that you'll want to read it again and again, at least once a year. Yes, really.

    To quote a relevant part:

    "It also seems likely that music preferences reveal general intelligence. Conventional top 40 radio stations, pop music and easy listening music are designed to maximize sales by appealing to the center of the bell curve. Alternative music and classical music basically connote higher-intelligence music – difficult listening music – which appeals to a smaller, but more discerning market segment. It tends to be more complex with regard to melodic structure and scale, timbral richness and variety, rhythmic intricacy and variety, and lyrical vocabulary and allusiveness. This musical complexity requires more from the listener's auditory perception, attention and short-term memory so listeners of lower intelligence find it overwhelming, stressful and weird. So higher intelligence can be displayed with some reliability through a stated preference for music by Bartók and Björk, rather than Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hannah Montana."

    • Agree: 95Theses
  8. JayMan says: • Website

    I know you deliberately avoided it, but the proportions given here only work if the mean IQ of the population in question is 100. Since most human populations (even those in Europe) have a mean significantly lower than that, the proportions will be shifted accordingly.

    Great exposition of the nature of people at different levels of smarts!

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  9. Imitative people who rise to the top, with hardly any talent haven't been mentioned.

  10. Anonymous [AKA "Guy Large"] says: • Website

    As a layman, I have a few questions.

    How does the within-group variation in correlated outcomes compare within the between-group variation? Is, for instance, the range of outcomes for people within any of these IQ- groups quite wide and evenly distributed it or is it a fairly steep bell curve?

    Is the within-group variation more pronounced for the highest-IQ groups than the lower? For instance, it is a bit of a cliche that the highest-IQ groups include a noticeably large number of individuals who really don't get the most out of life at all e.g.

  11. elijahlarmstrong says: • Website

    145 IQ is about 99.9th percentile; 160 is about 99.997 (1 in thirty thousand).You don't get to Unimaginable Genius levels until you hit 170ish.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @C
  12. @elijahlarmstrong

    Above 3 sigma, put away the IQ instrument and re-base on the group judgement of the brightest available minds.

  13. @JayMan

    Yes, a more complicated version, which I certainly intend to write one day, looks at globalisation from a skills perspective.If global IQ is in the 90 to 94 range, and everyone can compete freely, then below IQ 90 the prospects for employment don't look good. There will be millions of productive people above IQ 90 clamouring for opportunities, and providing low cost services and goods. China looks like taking the lead in this regard. Then all the arrangements we have constructed on a national basis are put under stress. If we buy our goods from abroad, and then buy our services from abroad, then everywhere ends up being abroad, and we have to reconfigure ourselves in global terms, though quite how that will work out with national legislatures I do not know.

  14. @Cheapjack2009

    Is there any published evidence on this?

  15. @Anonymous

    Thanks. Press reports notwithstanding, bright people tend to do well, live longer, and avoid trouble. There may be a ghoulish fascination with "genius ends up as a drunk vagrant" stories, but if you look at long term population studies, the bright are blessed with brains and health. Have a look at Prof Ian Deary's work on this, which I often post about.

  16. dearieme says:

    "You don't get to Unimaginable Genius levels until you hit 170ish." I've always considered such statements to be utter tosh. All the UGs who made Western Civilisation preceded IQ tests, so we don't know. Unless more Newtons, Shakespeares, Gausses, Mozarts, and Rembrandts come along, we'll never know.

    My guess is that I'd be very surprised if Darwin had an IQ of 170, but he might be one of the most civilisation-changing of geniuses. Perhaps Luther is another example. I do wish people who see the potential usefulness of the concept of IQ would stop being silly about it.

  17. Anonymous [AKA "Aaron Hammett"] says: • Website

    "Vocabularies are relatively mall"

    Relatively speaking…

    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @Anonymous
  18. Good stuff. I look forward to the promised updates and refinements.

    Just a few thoughts:

    1. You might want to mention that your bottom 5% does not include people who are considered outside normality (I think "developmentally delayed" is currently the preferred term). For what it's worth, I have a relative who's on the border between the bottom of the bottom 5% and abnormal — she can use a *simple* cell phone, following repeated training; can drive short, familiar routes; has a job doing very simple, repetitive assembly; can't count change; can't read an analog clock. She doesn't look abnormal and is able to act appropriately and say conventional things in most social situations. She's fascinating to observe — and can be frustrating as hell to live with.

    2. Since you're attaching IQs to the tribes, it might make sense to scale up the numbers, so that the whole scheme will seem less Procrustean. Working from a total of 1 million would not be confusing to most readers, I should think. Or I suppose you could say that the town is perfectly representative of the population identified in the disclaimer.

    3. The observations on likelihood of belief in god strike me as somewhat Euro-centric (or perhaps academy-centric). To be anecdotal, in the world I inhabit (consisting mostly of carriage-trade lawyers in an eastern U.S. city), religious participation seems to be surprisingly high, and I don't think more than a few percent of it is entirely pro forma.

  19. @Anonymous

    you are right to pick me up on this, absolutely speaking. I need more vocabulary data. some of the newer internet stuff is biased to the high end. The newer NALS study has better particulars.

  20. A million is a big number to most people, though I accept it is small to an American lawyer! If you look at Gigerenzer on risk communication, then 1000 is the best number. Initially I wanted to do it that way, but compromised at 10,000 so as to get in the later, rarer tribes of intellect. You are right that I implicitly left developmentally delayed children out of this calculation. This becomes a somewhat technical issue, because the frequency of such children varies in different groups, but my point was to show that a very normal looking person can have great difficulty with some mental tasks, and as we tend to congregate with people of like ability, this is often partly invisible to us. Please check my calculations on the PISA post!

    • Replies: @Well-meaning-amateur
  21. Sorry, I forgot to respond on the religion issue. Perhaps best, in America, to measure the belief in superstitions, magic, spooky coincidence etc rather than formal religion.

  22. @Anonymous

    Mensa say their membership is wide.

  23. @Cheapjack2009

    Adolf Hitler? I can't find any published evidence, but he was supposed to have a low IQ and was manipulative and imitative of other successful regimes?

  24. dearieme says:

    "somewhat Euro-centric (or perhaps academy-centric)": maybe, but might it apply to Chinese and Japanese too?

    • Replies: @Well-meaning-amateur
  25. @James Thompson

    Thanks for the response — I will give them a look!

  26. @dearieme

    It might–I honestly don't know. With respect to educated Europeans, my sense is that they tend to assume, innocently but incorrectly, that educated Americans share their level of areligiosity.

  27. dearieme says:

    For purportedly Christian people, elderly Americans seem to be surprisingly glad to suffer very unpleasant circumstances in exchange for lengthening their lives by a week or two. It's not what I'd expect from people who ought to be happy to meet their Maker.

  28. elijahlarmstrong says: • Website

    I agree with this. However, I was using "genius" in the sense of "really smart".

  29. panjoomby says: • Website

    @ dearieme: ouch! — we're not all religious here in the US — some of us are ex-religious 🙂

  30. Luke Lea says: • Website

    Remember that what IQ measures — "g" — is the underlying correlate of various mental abilities. It is not the abilities themselves.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  31. The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. I do believe in gods. Their names are Mozart, Stravinsky, Bach, among others. I read Edward Gibbon for leisure. I dropped out of college from boredom, ennui and Weltschmertz after two years.
    Am I a fool?

  32. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    You are making comparisons between personality and IQ scores, quite hard and linear manner. It is always very important to make clear which are (at first) statistical averages. This means you will have a majority of people who are in this range and that will tend to present at least more than half the personality traits and social, cultural and cognitive development. But perhaps just as important, also have people with only one or two traits-core, will be in this range (especially IQ scores).
    In addition, there are large internal variations within these cognitive-social groups. I believe that the first two tribes, in fact, there should be a tendency for homogeneous cognitive landscape (and a timid growth to variability of personality). But the highest for human achievement will be more complex and diverse will are their cognitive portfolios.
    I recently read the work of Ruthsatz on the characteristics of 8 children prodigies. Surprisingly to many, found a large variation in the individual scores of the children studied, 108 to 147. Two people identified as child prodigies (that means 8 people were analyzed who were identified as gifted during their respective childhoods ) obtained total average iq of 108 and 111 respectively. Another finding of the study was that they all had scores very high working memory, 99% percentile. Two people were diagnosed with autism and that all the prodigies had high scores for the AQ test.
    It makes sense that higher levels for human achievement should be to the presence of biological structure type ''twice exceptional'', where a disability is compensated by an unusual advantage. The highest levels for human achievement or not always for what I suspect, in most cases, will not fit for the highest levels of intelligence, whether IQ tests really are the only and best means to capture this trait.
    In my opinion, most creative geniuses tend to have asymmetric cognitive characteristics, that is to say, are actually very good in some components, along with poor or medium in others. This imbalance acts as a reinforcement for the intellectual obsession in the areas where they are best.
    The fewer things a person is good and the more she is good at one thing, depending on your level of intelligence (in this case, we are talking about cognitive style, technical, mixed or intellectual, symmetric or asymmetric, etc.), it will tend to more specialized and thus be closer to the transcendence of the accumulation of acquired knowledge to the creation of knowledge itself.
    The various types of geniuses are all related to both autism and with savant syndrome, presenting many things in common. These people, in fact, are outliers, are different species from the rest of humanity and may not even be compared with the average joey.


    • Replies: @F
  33. @James Thompson

    The correction is more than a little necessary. I used to be president of the Prometheus Society, and there were plenty of religious people aboard. A smaller percentage than among the rest of the population, but still considerable. Your phrasing would suggest that a religious person with an IQ above 145 was unusual. That is simply not so.

    Perhaps I am over-reading based on what others have written over the years, but it seems that there is some disappointment and annoyance that there are so many people of high-IQ who are believers, as if it should not be that way, and doesn't fit the preferred pattern. In support of that theory I report that I have a fair bit of contact with the developmentally disabled, and they don't tend to believe in much of anything. So I am suspecting that you are missing the other end as well.

    The 7 categories you report have value, but the attempt to generalise obscures a great deal. There are more exceptions than your choice of language would suggest.

  34. @James Thompson

    I am reporting a general trend, to which there will be many exceptions, as is always the case with general trends. Certainly, very bright believers of my acquaintance get irritated by the presumption that they are foolish to be theists. A general observation is just that. It is an observation, not a prohibition. You can have a very bright believer like Newton (whose theology a close school friend of mine who is a priest spent time studying at Cambridge) and still have a general negative correlation between intelligence and religious belief.

  35. Anonymous [AKA "CuriousAnon"] says:

    Wonderful post. I very much enjoyed reading it, especially the later sections about the sixth and seventh tribes. I have one question regarding the tribes in general and the IQ levels you gave regarding them.

    Is it possible for a person to have abilities of a tribe above the one their own IQ level would place them? I have converted my SAT scores into IQ scores and, depending on the method used, have come out with scores ranging from 103-110.

    Despite that, none of the tasks presented in the description of the abilities of tribe 5 (those with IQ 125) sound very difficult to me. To add a bit more information to this post, I tested my estimated vocabulary size and found it to be around 30,400 words (which also fits that category and which will probably go up in the future, since I am only 19 now).

    I do not believe I am actually as intelligent as someone with an IQ of 125, so I am wondering if the distribution of IQ between verbal and visual-spatial intelligence can make a difference. My IQ is heavily skewed towards the verbal end and I scored in the 99th percentile on the verbal section of the SAT. My scores on the math section were much less impressive though; I scored in the 56th percentile there.

    Feel free to ignore this comment if you wish; it does not add anything particularly constructive to your post. I am simply curious if the verbal/visual-spatial IQ difference can affect it at all.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @Anonymous
  36. @Anonymous

    Of course one can be much stronger on some abilities than others. General intelligence is a general finding. My description of tribes is a broad brush approach. You could check out your own pattern by trying a variety of intelligence tests, some of which are online. I cannot vouch for them but is an example. Or, if you are really interested, contact a careers center and see what they can offer. The Woodcock Johnson has many fans, and has good employment data behind it. Anyway, you may be someone who has a very big difference between different types of mental skill, and you can either work round that, or practice more in your weaker areas. Most people seem to do the former. Simply knowing something about your pattern of skills is useful in going about your life.

  37. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    ''… You could check out your own pattern by trying a variety of intelligence tests, some of which are online…''

    On-line iq tests??
    Did intelligence tests online, most of them are not fakes or incompletes?
    Well, I've done several test iq online and have found some patterns. No more, my total average for all of them was around 110. Taking into account that most of them are in English and many are timed, I would think that this result was below that I believe can run. Like CuriosAnon, my forte is verbal intelligence… and creativity (recently became engaged me to write poetry as well as some text content of political journalism and I did not do badly in any of these functions). My weakness is math, which I'm almost speechless. As my narcissistic and obsessive curiosity did not seem to end, I decided to calculate my school performance and surprisingly found great similarity in relation to the results in intelligence tests online.
    With respect to intellectual tribes, I do not know which one I could fit in, because by the accumulation of evidence and self-perceptions I concluded that I might be called'' within the autism spectrum.'' As a teenager I was misdiagnosed as bipolar by a incompetent psychologist. However, since that time, I never saw myself as a manic-depressive and thus avoided the medication anti-depressants she recommended me.
    My verbal IQ can not be too high, because it also measures the mathematical ability or some components that it requires the ability to interpret problems. However, you can not be average. So what I estimated around 120-130. My introverted personality, autistic-style obsessive and brainiac increases the perception of people and my own perception of my intelligence. However, I'm almost always weak in technical skills.
    Have my nonverbal intelligence I have no idea how it could be. If this can be represented here as the ability in geometry, so I'm definitely not good. For starters, I have great difficulty in measuring or estimating distances, weights, measures in general.
    So when I see the idea that there is a centralizing factor that says
    if you are good in a function, it will be equally good in other roles, regardless of their level of intelligence
    This does not seem to work for me.


  38. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    It was a spelling correction, not a criticism of your sample size.

  39. I find the characterisations interesting because when I think about myself and people I have met I'd say that for the most part everyone has the cultural characteristics of groups 4 and 5 (no doubt this is a feature of being middle class in general) – yet the outcomes and I suspect actual intelligences vary a lot more than that. I also wonder how rate of development plays into all this, I was one of those people who tested very high as a child but became average as I approached adulthood, yet my experience of being ahead as a child has had a profound effect on my interests (mostly more "intellectual" in nature) and tastes as well as how I relate to others, yet in terms of outcomes I am a terrible failure compared to the expectations placed upon me, although as a female I have an out because even today men settle more easily into the role of breadwinner.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  40. Anonymous [AKA "Better by Half"] says: • Website

    I am the opposite case, and then not, too. I was on the left side of the developmental curve, and I barely kept up with my same-age peers as a child — though admittedly, and we didn't know this then, but I was/am ADHD.

    But then at age 16 — as far as ability to recall information, notice patterns, synthesize original theories and use abstract concepts, et cet — I rocketed past all my friends who had been the smart ones for all our childhoods. I am easily in the upper half of Tribe 5, but still pretty damn dysfunctional. I have a bachelor's and a master's degree, one from an elite university, but I haven't been able to do anything with them, and have given up trying.

    Perhaps that will turn out to be a godsend, as I have recently gained the focus to write a novel. Focus is just a wee bit uncommon for me, but I'd always been able to focus when it came to good literature.

    I very much understand the whole 'being a disappointment' thing. You're right about men wanting to be the breadwinners. We're horrific beings, really, totally not evolved for the all-important APPROPRIATE behavior —- that virtue of which there is no superior!

    Sorry to all the English for saying "godsend". I know that word is offensive to your national religion, Atheism. I am well aware there is no-God (pizza be upon him), and the English are His Chosen People.

  41. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "Vocabularies are relatively mall"

    I didn't manage to find 'mall – adjective' in a dictionary!

  42. I think that small was intended. Thanks for pointing it out, but I will leave it as a historical curiosity.

  43. G.M. says:

    Given a normally-distributed population with mean 100 & stdev 15, 130 IQs are 1 in 44 & 145 IQs are 1 in 741. See Excel:


    • Replies: @Anonymous
    , @James Thompson
  44. G.M. says:

    Similarly, given this distribution the top 1% of the top 1% (1 in 10,000) are not >145, but rather >156 IQ.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  45. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I wonder how intelligent he thinks himself to be.

  46. Steven says: • Website

    "What does aesthetic sensitivity have to do with cognitive ability?

    I'm not sure there is any connection at all."

    Of course there is a connection.

    Person A: Favourite director: Woody Allen
    Favourite musical artist: Leonard Cohen
    Favourite poet: Yeats.

    Person B: Michael Bay and Snoop Dogg, thinks poetry is old fashioned and boring.

    Can you guess who is more intelligent?

  47. Steven says: • Website

    Plus it is not really a matter of aesthetic sensitivity in the sense of appreciation of beauty. That's framing it wrong. Some forms of entertainment are more intellectually stimulating and will appeal more to the intelligent.

  48. Steven says: • Website

    Or perhaps: some films/songs etc are more intelligent in their content and took more intelligence to make…perhaps these things will impress and stimulate those that are more intelligent.

  49. Anonymous [AKA "rgeilern"] says: • Website

    Mr. Thompson,

    What do you make of this?

    In my explorations of the research literature, in my conversations with scientists, in my visits to schools and workplaces, I have found so much exciting evidence that while we think of intelligence as a global trait—a person either is “smart,” or isn’t—in fact, all intelligence is local.

    It is profoundly influenced by factors like how much sleep we’ve been getting, how anxious we feel, how focused our attention is, how interested in the subject we are, how effectively we’re using our technological tools, how much factual knowledge we possess, whether we feel a sense of belonging, and much else: all factors that we can shape, for ourselves and others, once we understand their role in evoking intelligence.

  50. Not much. Feel-good journalism. However, if papers are quoted, I will have a (quick) look at them.

  51. Vocab Monk says: • Website

    Every day you hear or read many new English words. You also find them in your dictionary when you are translating from your own language. You can’t possibly learn all these new words, so your first problem is to decide which ones to concentrate on. helps you to learn new words and enhance your vocabulary by providing personalized sessions to the individuals.
    Give a shot..!!

  52. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Yeah. His calculations were wildly off, which made his narratives odd.

  53. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Fix the errors in your post, please.

    It's really annoying seeing the statistical inaccuracies.

    An IQ of 145 is 1 in 741.

    Your Eminent category should actually state an IQ of 155-156. That is 1 in 10,000.

    Your write-up is overdone and mostly off the top of your head.

    I guess you think that high-IQ individuals need an occasional near astrology report.


  54. @G.M.

    Thank you, yes, will fix.

  55. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    You found it enjoyable?
    That's because you like astrology reports.

  56. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    1 in 1 million is an IQ of 171. I would suggest that you use the following site for later references:

    These numbers can be deduced by knowing that the SD is 15 and that the mean is 100. I'm guessing you're being careless and lazy.

  57. I have two questions:

    1) Is the human ability to use syntax based on innate mental structures or is syntactic speech the function of intelligence and interaction with other humans?

    2) Is it true that syntax is what human levels of intelligence are mostly about?

  58. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Hitler rose in an extreme environment that favored his talents. A quote from Robert Lindner is germane "It is a characteristic of all movements and crusades that the psychopathic element rises to the top." Yes, I know, Hitler was not a psychopath, he was a malignant narcissist – same thing, only different.

    The disorder of Germany created by the Versailles Treaty and the collapse of the 1920's speculative bubble called for a movement towards greater order. Hitler clawed his way to the front of that movement.

    A system under stress reacts in a direction to relieve the stress (Le Chatelier, loosely).

    another fred

  59. C says: • Website

    Why above 3 and not above 2 or 1? Weren't the greatest achievers passed over by the Terman studies?

  60. F says: • Website

    In my opinion, most creative geniuses tend to have asymmetric cognitive characteristics, that is to say, are actually very good in some components, along with poor or medium in others. This imbalance acts as a reinforcement for the intellectual obsession in the areas where they are best."

    This is a very deep, and agreeable notation.

    However, the 5-tribes subdivision leaves out whom we may judge "geniuses", as it does "developmentally delayed" people at the other end of the spectrum.

    It is of course not true that "The various types of geniuses are all related to both autism and with savant syndrome"; while it is obvious that psychic issues and creativity are correlated (perhaps "mental disease" is how societies label the fruits of creativity or imagination that seem to threaten their foundational conventions the most, by the way. Foucault's History of Insanity is certainly enlightening in this respect).

  61. Anonymous [AKA "HalfAmerindio"] says:

    Leave discussion of affirmative action beneficiaries like OBama and Hilldog for another blog post.

  62. Patricus says:

    I came across a puzzle on the internet. When I guessed the right answer I was offered the opportunity to take a free IQ test. To my surprise my score was 149 which puts me in the top 1%. I was however old and experienced enough to know I am not the smartest person even in my group of associates. Maybe there are accurate IQ tests but I can’t help but wonder just how reliable these written tests can be. Can everything about a person’s abilities be determined by a single number?

    There might be some goatherd who never attended school but happens to have an agile mind and photographic memory, etc., etc.

  63. Joe862 says:

    It seems to me that with the increase in marriages between college educated people of progressively more similar socio-economic backgrounds we should expect a big increase in very high iq people. Why would we expect the distribution to stay the same when breeding patterns haven’t. Just the tendency of people with college degrees to marry creates a huge pool with average iq of 115 or so.

    I’d expect the opposite to be true as well where people with little education and low iqs will breed children with an especially low chance of high iq. People are self-segregating more than ever so increases at the extremes should be expected shouldn’t they?

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  64. The one question intelligence test: do you like classical music?

  65. Anonymous [AKA "qusman1"] says:

    It could be so if simple genetic factors had a strong role in determining who’d end up with a very high IQ. But apparently it’s not.

  66. TG says:

    An interesting post. Some minor points:

    1. “Employment opportunities, which would have been plentiful in simpler agrarian societies, are now far more limited, tenuous, and precarious. Modern life has become very demanding, and simple physical labour no longer adds much value.” WRONG. Simple jobs – janitor, etc. – are as much in demand as ever. In fact, oddly enough, these are the jobs that are hardest to automate! The reason they pay little today is because we have deliberately flooded the marketplace with refugees from the overpopulated third world. Let the demand for janitors be high, and the supply low, and their wages will be high. That’s why janitors in Japan and Switzerland make more money than engineers in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

    2. Never forget that at the top end, they can also be fragile and subject to madness or depression etc. There is always a trade-off….

    3. You suggest that societal progress depends on high IQ individuals. In part, sure, but it is not the main factor. In the 19th century, there must have been more potential Einsteins in China than in the entire United States – but starving in the mud, so what? Sure, much depends on whether the intelligence of a high IQ individual can be put into effective application, but this depends not just on the political structure of a society, but its demographics. When everyone has more kids than they can afford to support, and everyone is crushed into a state of miserable chronic malnutrition, and there is no spare capital or resources to work with, well, the occasional high IQ individual can have no effect.

  67. JackOH says:

    “The 7 Tribes of Intellect” was a real “grabber” for me, and a fine intro to the work of Prof. Thompson and his colleagues. I’d like to think a laminated copy ought to be distributed in the States to every teacher, guidance counselor, school administrator, and school board member. Maybe something like this already exists, I don’t know.

    I’m biased of course. I believe more educational resources ought to be devoted to those who would benefit most from them, and fewer educational resources ought to be devoted to those who would benefit most from entering the work force as manual or commercial workers.

  68. CanSpeccy says: • Website

    But remember folks, especially if you’re only an Alpha minus, that Richard Feynman, perhaps the greatest American theoretical physicist of the 20th Century, had an IQ of only 124, assigning him to Professor Thompson’s Fourth Tribe among whom “Occupations like manager, teacher and accountant are achieved.” LOL.

    Then there were the Nobel laureates in physics, Shockley and Alvarez, neither of whom made the cut for Terman’s study of gifted children.

    So your best bet, really, is to make sure never to take an IQ test, then some low-browed IQ-ist won’t be able to place you in their Fascist hierarchy and you will be able to find your own level according to your particular unique set of talents, interests, and opportunities and the effort you apply to whatever it is that you set out to achieve.

  69. CanSpeccy says: • Website

    But remember folks, especially if you’re only an Alpha minus, that Richard Feynman, perhaps the greatest American theoretical physicist of the 20th Century, had an IQ of only 124, assigning him to Professor Thompson’s Fourth Tribe among whom “Occupations like manager, teacher and accountant are achieved.” LOL. Feynman sure was some teacher.

    Then there were the Nobel laureates in physics, Shockley and Alvarez, neither of whom made the cut for Terman’s study of gifted children.

    So your best bet, really, is to make sure never to take an IQ test, then some low-browed IQ-ist won’t be able to place you in their Fascistic uni-dimensional system of classification. Instead, you will be able to find your own level according to your particular and unique set of talents, interests, and opportunities and the effort you apply to whatever it is that you set out to achieve.

    Or, to quote the motto of the Royal Air Force: per ardua ad astra, which roughly translated means: “don’t let the psychometric bastards tie you down.”

  70. @dearieme

    Indeed! The Von Neumann type of mind is fetishized by some on here. Not to downplay his extraordinary achievements in deductive reason, but I suspect the likes of Darwin – cognitively slower perhaps, but with a more ‘open’ and ’empirical’ type of intelligence are necessary for civilizational progress. Others in that category might be Max Weber, Gibbon, Ruskin, and the like. Not to mention the great imaginative intellects. No offense to Von Neumann but I wouldn’t much want to read his sonnets, his prose fiction, or even his efforts to say something interesting about a movie.

  71. Cortes says:

    Your essays are interesting, always.

    But the old pastoralists, musing beneath the starlit skies, skies unpolluted and clear may have reflected

  72. Anonymous [AKA "flow"] says:

    It is odd to be one of the very very bright ones.

    I never really found my place in the world. Gave up on it all and tried to navigate a path that made sense.

    In most senses of the word, I’m a failure.

    reading this article brought a small tear to me eye. No one ever ‘put me to use’ – well, not outside of the occasional conman who just took my input and ran off to make riches.

    Comfortable watching the world burn.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  73. @Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment. One of the extraordinary but sad things about intelligence testing is that you find bright people who, for one reason or another, never had much chance to put their abilities to use. There were many women in this category, at least when I was doing lots of testing in the 1970s, and seeing people who were then in their sixties, so would have been making career choices, or marriages, in the 1920s, when women were kept out of career paths.
    Waste of talent is bad for the individuals, and bad for society.

  74. PG says:

    Nothing instills dread in a smart person like knowing that they are not the smartest.

    Hard to remember exactly what it was, but my friend was trying to explain some probability theory to me. I asked him, “what’s the use of this principle?” He replied, “what do you mean ‘what’s the use?’ It’s not inherently useful, it’s just interesting.” It’s little ego-battering moments like that that really put the anxiety into mortal Being.

    Nobody tells you that even if you find a comprehensive meaning to life, it won’t necessarily soothe your angst. Intellectua–scientific exploration–provides a special kind of Chaos, where traditional principles lose most of their significance, falling away to reveal a broad machinic universe where the highest goal is complete understanding of its movement.

    At least I won’t be wiped out yet. I’m smart enough to last for a few more generations. At the very least, when I go, it won’t be long after that the smartest ones go too. Everything has a time, yes? The timeless principle of cycling Chaos and Order won’t ever go away. It is written into the fabric of our universe, which–current theory prevailing–predicts will collapse back in on itself.

  75. Vinnie O says:

    1. “god” (with a lower case “g”) is NOT a single thing. That is, you can believe in “a god” or you can believe in “gods”, but what YOU clearly mean is “belief in God (singular) the Almighty”. Screwing this up just makes you look as dumb (or insulting) as you probably are.
    2. NO ONE has ever told my what my IQ is, when I was in 2nd Grade, we took a Standardized Test, and I apparently scored “off the scale”. I was/am “scary smart”. The closest I’ve ever come to finding out my IQ was when I had to take an IQ for one of jobs, and the company told me, apparently with some fear, that I was “smarter than 85% of the MANAGERS in the US”…
    3. You have COMPLETELY skipped the connection (or more often disconnection) between raw mental horsepower and personal organization and fitting into groups. REALLY smart people tend to get pushed off into corners because being RIGHT is more important to them than being “political”. I gave up a LONG time ago trying to keep track of the number of times that I gave a boss-fella the right answer and he (or she) ignored it. In almost all business (and social) situations, there are things that have been predetermined to be “true” or “right”. Coming up with the “wrong” answer shows you’re not a Team Player. Being a Team Player is WAY more important than be technically right.

  76. Vinnie O says:

    This was COMPLETELY discussed by Charles Murray in the various versions of his “Bell Curve”, which go back to the 1970s.

    The SIGNIFICANCE of the Bell Curve on American society is that different ethnic groups (e.g., Indo-Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans) have MARKEDLY different IQ curves. NOTHING can be done to CHANGE that.

    But if you’re interested in what segmentation of IQ MEANS, read Charles Murray. This guy is crap.

  77. On the notion of some that brilliant people have little interest in religious matters:

    “An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God,” Ramanujan, who I think may have been the brightest person ever (after Christ, Moses, Isaiah, Apostles Paul and John).

  78. Lee235711 says:

    I have been a member of two high IQ societies. One is the well-known Mensa, the other is the less well known TNS. I dropped out of both, because they confirmed my experience that even the most brilliant humans are stupid. I include myself. We are a pathetic species. We know a few things, and we can do a few things. A few of us know more and can do more intellectually than the rest. But we are still at the zero level of civilization. Will we ever make it to level one?

    If we survive, we may yet reach the technological singularity discussed by some futurists. Unfortunately, this may be accompanied by an even greater concentration of wealth and power than we have already. High IQ does not guarantee a person is benevolent. On the other hand, it can make a person a more effective liar, cheater, and thief.

    Bertrand Russell was once asked if he was ever sorry he was so intelligent. Doesn’t it cause unhappiness? I like his reply. He said no, he wishes he was even more intelligent than he is. I am smart enough to know I am stupid, compared to the intelligence I need to advance to the next level. Hence my interest in artificial intelligence.

    Regarding IQ, I think the old classification is still useful. Here is one version from a website. I would like to know an authoritative reference.

    The first three groups are considered retarded.

    Idiots (0-24)
    Imbeciles (25-49)
    Morons (50-69)
    Normal (70-129)
    Gifted (130+)

    I see a high IQ as a necessary but not sufficient condition for great achievement in mathematics and science. Some people are better at using the intelligence they have been given. Perhaps Feynman is an example. If it is true that his IQ was a few points under 130, so what? He had all the intelligence he needed to make great achievements. People should not worry if they are five points less than someone else. The question is what are you doing with your intelligence.

    The global IQ problem is very serious indeed. It is easily explained. But free discussion of this problem is banned in academia and in the mainstream media. I recommend the late J. Philippe Rushton’s work for anyone who is interested in the correlation between race and IQ, from an evolutionary perspective.

  79. Alana says:

    Thank you so much for this. It has really helped me with a tricky situation I have got into. The whole issue of how a Tribe 2 person behaves was previously outside my experience, and easily mistaken for a cultural difference or emotional game playing. Your secondary characteristics are also suprisingly accurate, so I will recognise this immediately if I meet this situation again.

    Just ignore all the conceited idiots in the comments, trying to put this area down. I would bet that like the Nancy Pelosis of this world, they live in their own self-serving, pompous little bubble and never try to interact with and help people in tribe 2, so they can blissfully ignore the realities of that situation.

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