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You can detect a lot about a person using simple tasks which take less than 2 minutes. Here is a test which did the job in 90 seconds, but then got lengthened to 120 seconds to make it even more reliable. Of this test, one of those Edinburgh researchers said to me in a conference coffee break: “it is better than a brain scan”. What did he mean?

In order to get an overall estimate of mental power, psychologists have chosen a series of tasks to represent some of the basic elements of problem solving. The selection is based on looking at the sorts of problems people have to solve in everyday life, with particular attention to learning at school and then taking up occupations with varying intellectual demands. Those tasks vary somewhat, though they have a core in common.

Most tests include Vocabulary, examples: either asking for the definition of words of increasing rarity; or the names of pictured objects or activities; or the synonyms or antonyms of words.

Most tests include Reasoning, examples: either determining which pattern best completes the missing cell in a matrix (like Raven’s Matrices); or putting in the word which completes a sequence; or finding the odd word out in a series.

Most tests include visualization of shapes, examples: determining the correspondence between a 3-D figure and alternative 2-D figures; determining the pattern of holes that would result from a sequence of folds and a punch through folded paper; determining which combinations of shapes are needed to fill a larger shape.

Most tests include episodic memory, examples: number of idea units recalled across two or three stories; number of words recalled from across 1 to 4 trials of a repeated word list; number of words recalled when presented with a stimulus term in a paired-associate learning task.

Most tests include a rather simple set of basic tasks called Processing Skills. They are rather humdrum activities, like checking for errors, applying simple codes, and checking for similarities or differences in word strings or line patterns. They may seem low grade, but they are necessary when we try to organise ourselves to carry out planned activities. They tend to decline with age, leading to patchy, unreliable performance, and a tendency to muddled and even harmful errors. When we lose our ability to do even simple tasks, then the care home beckons.

One of these simple tasks is called Coding. It is also known as Digit-Symbol. You are shown a code box in which every number from 0 to 9 has a symbol underneath. Your task is to go through a whole set of numbers, each with an empty box underneath, and fill in the appropriate code. So, you look at the first number in the sequence, look up at the code box to find the appropriate code for that number, and then draw it in to the box. It is a dull task, like being a university teacher.

First, here is the overall picture which comes from Salthouse’s review of the data on ageing.

Localizing age-related individual differences in a hierarchical structure. Timothy A. Salthouse. Intelligence 32 (2004) 541–561

Data from 33 separate studies were combined to create an aggregate data set consisting of 16 cognitive variables and 6832 different individuals who ranged between 18 and 95 years of age. Analyses were conducted to determine where in a hierarchical structure of cognitive abilities individual differences associated with age, gender, education, and self-reported health could be localized. The results indicated that each type of individual difference characteristic exhibited a different pattern of influences within the hierarchical structure, and that aging was associated with four statistically distinct influences; negative influences on a second-order common factor and on first-order speed and memory factors, and a positive influence on a first-order vocabulary factor.

Personally, I am glad to see that Vocabulary holds up, but the rest fall sharply with age. To my eye the fall in perceptual speed is sharp, linear and with a pronounce slope. It plunges in a straight line. Here are the Wechsler standardisation data, and the overall findings from the meta-analysis.

This is what the task looks like.

Digit Symbol is such a simple task, almost free of any intellectual content, that it almost seems a measure of the brain’s clock speed, a clear indicator that old brains work more slowly than young ones. Given this finding, it is understandable that the coding task is a good predictor of how the person is ageing, and how well they are able to cope with the problems of everyday life. A brain scan, for all its apparent precision, is not a direct measure of actual performance. Currently, scans are not as accurate in predicting behaviour as is a simple test of behaviour. This is a simple but crucial point: so long as you are willing to conduct actual tests, you can get a good understanding of a person’s capacities even on a very brief examination of their performance.

The Digit Symbol test indicates current functioning. It does not assess previous levels of ability as is the case with the Adult Reading Test. (By the way, this test is absolutely nothing to do with regional accents. It is a test of whether you have learned how a specific set of irregularly written words are pronounced. For example, the word “Ache” has one pronunciation according to the usual rules of English, and another according to the quirky way in which English is written.

Exactly where Digit Symbol comes in the hierarchy of abilities is not my concern here. I just want to explain that much maligned “paper and pencil” tests (and their computer and keyboard equivalents) can be very powerful indicators of important personal abilities, with very profound consequences.

There are several tests which have the benefit of being quick to administer and powerful in their predictions. Digit Symbol is useful because it is a ratio scale. Each additional symbol the person puts in adds directly to their raw score. Another good, and even quicker test is Trail Making B which has a strong loading on g and also on an orthogonal processing speed factor.

All these tests are good at picking up illness related cognitive changes, as in diabetes. (Intelligence testing is rarely criticized when used in medical settings). Delayed memory and working memory are both affected during diabetic crises. Digit Symbol is reduced during hypoglycaemia, as are Digits Backwards. Digit Symbol is very good at showing general cognitive changes from age 70 to 76. Again, although this is a limited time period in the elderly, the decline in speed is a notable feature.

Predictors of ageing-related decline across multiple cognitive functions.
Stuart J. Ritchie, Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, Simon R. Cox, Janie Corley, Dominika Dykiert,Paul Redmond, Alison Pattie, Adele M. Taylor, Ruth Sibbett, John M. Starr, Ian J. Deary.
Intelligence 59 (2016) 115–126.

A few words about ageing: it all goes together when it goes. Or, at least 48% of the decline is shared across the board. The general tendency for most people is that brighter children become brighter, healthier, and fitter older adults. This ‘preserved differentiation’ appears to last into the eighth decade of life.

There is a fly in the ointment: The most robust and consistent predictor of cognitive change within old age, even after control for all the other variables, was the presence of the APOE e4 allele. APOE e4 carriers showed over half a standard deviation more general cognitive decline compared to noncarriers, with particularly pronounced decline in their Speed and numerically smaller, but still significant, declines in their verbal memory.

It is rare to have a big effect from one gene. Few people carry it, and it is not good to have. Perhaps in future people will try to delete it. However, I would suggest caution, because it might conceivably be useful in other contexts.

There is more detailed work on these simple tests, but they make an important point: a well-designed simple test can improve decision-making. Digit Symbol isn’t the best test of general intelligence, but it is very good at detecting health problems and ageing. Originally it was seen as the key test (I still hold on to this because of the simplicity, and the enormous number of times it has been given in clinical practice) but it is now seen as one of a number of processing speed tasks.

In brief, brief tests identify real-life changes, with important consequences.

• Category: Science • Tags: IQ, Psychometrics 
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  1. good info! any sex differences?

    • Agree: Dieter Kief
    • Replies: @Lockean Proviso
  2. I myself am sitting in front of the anvil of the lecturing desk and keep the hammer of my lectures swinging in the same embarrassing rhythm day in day out.
    (Immanuel Kant)

    It is a dull task, like being a university teacher.

  3. dearieme says:

    Thank you for that, doc. Are there any physical signs that correlate with cognitive decline? I’m thinking of speed of reflexes, peripheral vision, grip strength, or whatever? Presumably one would need to know how to discount the effect of, say, arthritis. (If one should discount it.)

    For example, the word “Ache” At what point does one conclude that the pronunciation is correct? In the Sarf uv Nglan its pronunciation would often sound like aye-k. But I find southerners sound their consonants more and more softly, so that a headache might become an ‘ed-aye. Would that do? Wouldn’t that be a subjective judgement?

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
    , @res
  4. It is rare to have a big effect from one gene. Few people carry it, and it is not good to have. Perhaps in future people will try to delete it. However, I would suggest caution, because it might conceivably be useful in other contexts

    • Agree: atlantis_dweller
  5. @dearieme

    Are there any physical signs that correlate with cognitive decline?

    Hm – all kinds of physical decline clearly correlate with cognitive decline I’d guess.

    So – is this your question: Which signs of physical decline are less hurtful with respect to cognitive decline than others?

    Another aspect of this decline phenomenon is – how much of their former thoughts are still relevant for intellectuals once they get really old?

    This would make for a great case study if one looks at the Geothe of 1831, who finished Faust II right before he died, 82 years old – and the one of 1770 (21 years old – beginning to work on Faust I) – and the Goethe of 1808 who finished Faust I.

    Or I think of philosopher Ernst Bloch, who had lost eyesight by the time he approached 90 – but kept – dictating – his last big book: Experimentum Mundi – a variation of his lifelong philosophical attempts.

    • Replies: @dearieme
  6. David says:

    Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth, somebody once said.

    Time seems to speed up through life. I always associated that with a lower sampling rate, like a film maker speeds up the camera to record slow motion. I’d assumed the perceived length of a minute, say, was proportional to one’s age inverted. You can’t integrate this function to zero, but starting at a minute or day of age, half your perceived lifetime is over around 16.

    But each sample of reality gets a lot more attention in an old person’s head than it does in a young person’s. There’s a lot more experience in the memory banks to compare the present situation to. Maybe the value of a deeper think is grater than another rapid sample or two.

    • Replies: @res
  7. dearieme says:
    @Dieter Kief

    Which signs of physical decline are less hurtful with respect to cognitive decline than others?

    Yes, that’s a better phrasing, thank you. I assume that the fact I’ve shrunk by half an inch in height has effectively nothing to do with cognitive decline.

    But now I am clumsy when once I was very well co-ordinated: I imagine that that does relate directly, in some way, to cognitive decline.

    (As I said once before, becoming clumsy while retaining quick reflexes is a rather destructive combination.)

  8. res says:

    I’d assumed the perceived length of a minute, say, was proportional to one’s age inverted.

    The usual theory I see is that time perception is logarithmic with age (so not declining as fast as 1/age). For example:

    That our time perception should be logarithmic can be easily rationalized (although proving it is a different matter!). The simple premise of Logtime, from which the logarithmic relationship can be derived (see Appendix ), is that the human mind judges the length of a long period of time, such as a year, by comparing it with current age. For example, a year adds 10% to the life of a ten-year-old, but only 5% to that of a twenty-year-old. For the twenty-year-old, two years are required to add 10%.

    The Logtime hypothesis is that it is this percentage that we perceive, not the years themselves: to the twenty-year-old, two years will seem to pass as quickly as one year will seem to the ten-year-old. Similarly, three years to a thirty-year-old and four years to a forty-year-old, etc., will seem to pass equally fast. (This argument was recently found to have been used, comparing a “child of 10” with a “man of 50”, by Sorbonne professor of philosophy Paul Janet, date unknown but quoted in an 1890 book by the eminent Harvard philosopher and psychology pioneer William James , who seemed to accept the description but added his own explanation of an underlying psychological cause which would be difficult to analyze quantitatively.)

    The Logtime hypothesis is consistent with the widely accepted description of the perception of physical stimuli commonly referred to as the “Weber-Fechner law” . For time perception, clock time (calendar age) is the “stimulus”. Weber-Fechner has been found to be only an approximation over a limited stimulus range, and this would probably be the case for aging perception if objective measurements were possible.

    Tukey’s transformation ladder (or ladder of powers) gives a useful way to think about the relative effects of different variable transformations:

    Also see Box-Cox transformations:

    • Replies: @anonymous
  9. res says:

    Are there any physical signs that correlate with cognitive decline? I’m thinking of speed of reflexes, peripheral vision, grip strength, or whatever?

    There is a fair amount of literature on that. Here is one example:


    [Purpose] This study aimed to assess the quality of life of elderly people related to physical function, cognitive function, and health, and devised methods to enhance their health-related quality of life.

    [Subjects and Methods] This study was conducted from November 2014 to January 2015 in 140 people over 65 registered at welfare centers. Those with a functional psychological disorder or difficulty communicating were excluded. Data were collected for physical function, cognitive function, and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) using an assessment tool and questionnaire for healthy elderly people over 65. Physical function was measured using muscle strength muscle endurance, reaction time, and balance.

    [Results] Correlations were observed between cognitive function and endurance, reaction time, and balance. Physical HRQOL showed correlations with all domains of physical function; mental HRQOL showed correlations with all items of physical function except muscle strength. Among factors that influence HRQOL, all items except educational background were significant variables. Educational background had no influence on HRQOL.

    [Conclusion] Interventions will correct factors with a negative influence on HRQOL, utilizing regular checks on physical, cognitive, and other functions of elderly people, with early detection and intervention to enhance HRQOL. Cognitive intervention related to physical and other functions will be applied.

    I searched for: physical correlates cognitive decline
    Adding variables of interest (e.g. grip strength) to that would tell you more about specific correlates.

    This recent study using the UK Biobank might be of interest:

    In the general population, maximal grip strength was positively and significantly related to visual memory (coefficient [coeff] = −0.1601, standard error [SE] = 0.003), reaction time (coeff = −0.0346, SE = 0.0004), reasoning (coeff = 0.2304, SE = 0.0079), number memory (coeff = 0.1616, SE = 0.0092), and prospective memory (coeff = 0.3486, SE = 0.0092: all P < .001).

    • Replies: @dearieme
  10. wonder if bright people lose skills more slowly, or if everyone loses processing speed quickly, or maybe the select group of bright people with poor processing speed lose that speed more quickly.

    do bright folks lose skills at the same rate as dumb people?

    i’d guess the higher g-loaded the skill, the more slowly bright people lose it.
    & on low-g loaded skills (processing speed) maybe everyone loses it quickly. maybe not! i’ll go with whatever you tell me, Dr. T!

    • Replies: @atlantis_dweller
  11. dearieme says:

    Thank you. The last quotation is odd because it chatters about “positively related” and then quotes negative correlation coefficients. Maybe the authors are a bit past it, eh?

    • Replies: @res
  12. res says:

    Good catch. That is confusing. In the text they word it differently (emphasis mine):

    Considering individuals from the general population, the (G)LMMs (with gender, age, weight, education as fixed effects, and geographical region as a random effect) showed that higher grip strength was significantly and positively related with better task performance for visual memory (t = −52.61, coefficient [coeff] = −0.1601, standard error [SE] = 0.003), reaction time (t = −87.8, coeff = −0.0346, SE = 0.0004), reasoning (t = 29.33, coeff = .2304, SE = .0079), number memory (t = 17.65, coeff = .1616, SE = 0.0092), and prospective memory (t = 38.05, coeff = 0.3486, SE = 0.0092: all P < .001).

    I believe lower is better for their visual memory and reaction time measures. Thus the negative coefficients.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  13. @res

    Res is right: it is good to react quickly, if only for survival reasons.

    • Replies: @dearieme
  14. dearieme says:
    @James Thompson

    That’s all very well but they said x & y were positively related when they aren’t. They should get that right even if low y is a jolly good thing.

    Or they could use the reciprocal of any variable where small = good.

    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
  15. @egregious philbin

    On an intuitive level, it appears obvious that better performing minds, save for breakdowns, will decline at a lower pace.

    Speed declines more than understanding capacity, that’s intuitive and apparent as well.

    Average people start going out of whack round age 60; brainy types, and more so intellectual types (who are not only intelligent, but inclined to apply their intelligence throughout life) are clear-minded, able to process new information and add some of it to their mind’s database, for life.

    Inclination to use one’s mind is of the essence as pertains cognitive decline. I know a bunch of 115-130 (yes, 130) IQ people who struggle (and give up) to learn basic operations with things like TV or climate control remote controls. I think ossified is a good describer for their neural equipment. To never use it makes it end up unusable.

  16. @atlantis_dweller

    thank you for your insightful thoughts – well said! to further the discussion, i’d bet in sex differences the answer is what it usually is: “men are more variable” so it would not be so simple as men decline sooner (tho on average i suspect we men decline sooner – “men are built for performance, women for endurance”:) especially since we die sooner! but the trajectories for men would probably be more variable (some decline way sooner, some hardly at all even in their 90s, except for speed). hoping the good Dr. Thompson chimes in with some data here:)

  17. @egregious philbin

    Wondered about sex differences, but thought I would concentrate on predictive validity. Will try to go back to the papers to see what they found on that score, but now busy with other topics.

    • Replies: @egregious philbin
  18. @James Thompson

    thank you, sir. alas, now i’m wondering about the converse: the developmental “incline” in children & young adults, & if there are sex differences there, as well! (& how much developmental trajectories can vary – how far from the slope they go, & if males are more variable in slope trajectories:) i won’t wonder anything else, i promise! thanks:)

  19. The Digit Symbol test can be cheated. In this test, you are given a table of symbols associated with the nine digits 1~9. Given a digit, you have to write down the corresponding symbol. There are two conceivable ways to administer this test: (1) While being shown the digit-symbol table, digits are flashed on the screen one after another, and you have to write down the symbol associated with each digit, (2) While being shown the digit-symbol table, you are given an entire list of digits, and you have to fill in, in each empty box, the symbol associated with the digit above the box.

    The particular testing method shown in this article is method (2). With this method, you can go through the successive digits, look up the corresponding symbol in the table, and fill in the box with the symbol associated with that digit. But it will be much fast if you look up the symbol for 1, then scan through the fill-in list looking for 1’s and fill in that symbol for all the 1’s in the list; then do the same thing for the digit 2, then the digit 3, …, then the digit 9.

    With method (2), you will complete the task much faster by the latter technique than by the former technique. Is coming to this insight intended to be part of the test? That is, is choosing the right algorithm to complete the task quickly a part of what is being tested for? Do the people who came up with this test realize that?

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  20. @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

    Instructions say “one after the other “.
    The better variant is to have the symbols on top, and just write in the numbers. From a cultural point of view, children will all know their numbers, and one cuts out the possibility that there are non-trivial differences in learning unknown symbol shapes.
    So “Symbol Digit” is probably purer.

  21. Willem says:

    ‘In brief, brief tests identify real-life changes, with important consequences.’

    In brief, it took me <120 seconds to read James Thompson's article and understand its meaning.

    There are 'important consequences' for those who take more time to read his articles and understand its meaning

    What type of 'important consequences'? Put on the x-axis reading time and on the y-axis will to purify the human race, and you will find a clear correlation. Of course correlation is not causation, but the correlation is there (just read the comments) and it does predict.

    All of this has also important consequences if you are as author above a certain age, and James Thompson certainly does not look youngest.

    But then, the 'deeper meaning' of these articles is of course to distract people to think about real issues, such as: perhaps we should help older people with ADL when they get above a certain age, or let them retire at an earlier age so that they can enjoy their remaining, increasingly fragile, lifes, independent on how they score on a test.

    • Replies: @rjj
    , @Bill Jones
    , @Aft
  22. One of the big negatives here is the new manner of living brought on by technological advances. I think millennials will visibly begin to slow down (if that’s even possible in their case) in their 40s and early 50s because they’ve spent their entire lives sitting and doing nothing.

    • Agree: Liza, renfro
  23. @egregious philbin

    My hypothesis is that scores drop if subjects take the test while having sex.

  24. @dearieme

    Indeed those minus signs were, and remain, disconcerting. The idea that higher grip strength, unless in a very small sample, correlates negatively with visual memory or reaction time seems absurd. (Maybe elderly gorillas were included in the test sample).

  25. Have some grip strength papers and intend to do something on them once other posts are completed.

    • Replies: @res
  26. res says:
    @James Thompson

    Looking forward to that. Grip strength is a useful metric for mortality as well. I wonder if anyone has done a longitudinal study looking at grip strength over time?

    Here is a recent review article:
    Associations Between Aging-Related Changes in Grip Strength and Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Systematic Review


    Of 459 unique citations, 6 met our full criteria: 4 studies reported a longitudinal association between rates of change in grip strength and cognitive function in older adults, 2 of which reported the magnitudes of these associations as ranging from low to moderate; 2 studies reported significant cross-sectional but not longitudinal associations among rates of change. All studies concluded that cognitive function and grip strength declined, on average, with increasing age, although with little to no evidence for longitudinal associations among rates of change.

    I find that surprising. I would have expected the longitudinal associations to be larger than cross sectional.

    This paper mentions a recent slight decline in grip strength (perhaps relevant to comment 22, though about older generations):

    Pulmonary function might also be worth a look. FVC (Forced Vital Capacity) and FEV (Forced Expiratory Volume, e.g. FEV1) are good mortality metrics.

    Aging curves:

    Interesting that FEV 25-75% (which I had not seen before as a metric) is most strongly affected by aging.

    Some papers on the association with cognitive function.

    Association of Lung Function with Cognitive Decline and Dementia: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study

    Lung function and cognitive ability in a longitudinal birth cohort study.
    Paper is available on libgen and uses the British 1946 birth cohort. A followup would be interesting to look at later in life results. Their conclusions:

    Conclusions: Cognitive function and FEV1 are positively associated across the life course. One possible explanation lies in the parallel action of endocrine, autonomic, and motor control systems on respiration and higher mental function. Because respiration and mental function are both associated with functional capacity and survival, this is a matter of potential clinical significance.

    P.S. For those with a do it yourself bent, to measure grip strength you can get these for about $30:

    To measure FEV1:

    Note that you can specifically exercise all of these metrics as well. I haven’t seen studies, but I am guessing that would not help much with outcomes (e.g. mortality or cognitive function) I think these metrics are more indicative of underlying good health and levels of activity. Using them to measure the results of an overall exercise program would probably be better.

    This 145 page meta-study is fairly negative about aerobic exercise providing cognitive benefits in older adults though:

    Authors’ conclusions

    We found no evidence in the available data from RCTs that aerobic physical activities, including those which successfully improve cardiorespiratory fitness, have any cognitive benefit in cognitively healthy older adults. Larger studies examining possible moderators are needed to confirm whether or not aerobic training improves cognition.

  27. I’m 65, and years ago was an on-again/off-again member of Mensa. I always knew I was the smartest person in the room (which probably means I needed to find a higher class of derelict).

    Recently I started watching “Jeopardy” again to keep track of 𝑤𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑘𝑖𝑛𝑑 champ James Holzhauer, and discovered I’m shouting out fewer answers than I used to. In some cases I don’t know the answer, if I ever did; in some cases I know it but “it’s on the tip of my tongue”; and in almost all cases I’m slower than the buzzer-beaters on the show.

    I’m still lucid (knock on wood), but time’s a bitch.

  28. rjj says:

    let them retire at an earlier age so that they can enjoy their remaining, increasingly fragile, lifes…

    retirement is a fraud — a lower latitude version of the ice flow. as with marriage, anything that gets that much social hype is likely to be an ordeal. uselessness is fatal.

  29. Cortes says:

    Is the coding to be done sequentially or can one eliminate all the 8s, for example, and move onto others to maximise familiarity with remaining uncoded elements and speed through the task?

    Asking for a friend…

  30. @egregious philbin

    ““men are built for performance, women for endurance”: especially since we die sooner!”

    What’s surprising is the degree to which men’s average lifespan is dragged down by the relative incidence of early deaths.
    Evolutionarily, it makes sense that the dumb, not the good, die young, make it to 99 and you’re good.

  31. @Willem

    Why do the aged need help with the Anti Defamation League?
    I thought they were equal opportunity bigots.

  32. @atlantis_dweller

    ‘…Inclination to use one’s mind is of the essence as pertains cognitive decline. I know a bunch of 115-130 (yes, 130) IQ people who struggle (and give up) to learn basic operations with things like TV or climate control remote controls. I think ossified is a good describer for their neural equipment. To never use it makes it end up unusable.’

    There’s also sheer impatience. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and if whatever can’t make itself clear, sod it. I think the crisis for me came with Windows 8.

  33. AaronB says:

    I thought about the decline with age, and its never really made sense to me – I’ve known quite a few old people who remained razor sharp into old age.

    I suspect the decline is really a decline in motivation to try hard and use ones mind – peak motivation is probably up till mid 30s, when you’re really competing with the world. You stop caring as much as you succeed and get established.

    Motivation, simple willingness to exert effort, is probably the key to understanding differences in IQ on so many levels – its also the one thing IQ promoters don’t want to talk about

    • Disagree: Aft
    • Replies: @Aft
  34. “You can’t do statistics without probability. We don’t need theoretical exams for a real world function by probability-challenged psychologists.” Taleb

  35. anonymous[939] • Disclaimer says:

    wwebd said: Those equations, while helpful for people who do not rely on prayer and angelic inspiration to live a good life in their old years, only work at an accurate level for people who are typically narcissistic, and hence amenable to being tested by hoi polloi testers.

    For example, a parent or a grandparent who is waiting from 10 to 11 for a child or a grandchild to come home from one of their first “independent” dates – a date that was supposed to be over at 10 – is going to live several hours in that one simple hour.

    One of the great problems of today’s society is the celebrity status of old people. Look at all they have accomplished, we say, as if they had done things that the next generation will not do.

    Hunter gatherers and medieval folk did not have that problem to the extent we have it, although of course they had similar problems.

    IN THE MIDST of the respect they had for old people, from simple metaphysical principles, there was also the over-arching context of that respect: it is one thing to be admired for long-gone accomplishments, it is another thing to be admired for who one still is: Where, they might say, where is the great accomplishment of this year? The years gone by are like the locust and the palmer beetle and mean nothing to us now, compared to the work of today, the needs of today, the joys of today!

  36. Factorize says:

    hmm, this does not seem to be good news for the IQ deniers. Apparently, a measure of intelligence can be obtained by simply looking at pupil dilation. Those with higher memory abilities had about a 1 mm larger pupil size than those with average working ability. Futher, 1 mm differences in pupil size can be noticed detected without fancy equipment. Basically, people’s pupil size provide IQ information.
    I have found an app that can give more exact pupil readouts.

    • Replies: @res
    , @James Thompson
  37. @Factorize

    I have to say that I thought the paperw was pretty good, but Emil Kirkegaard tells me the results did not replicate in another larger sample. I don’t have the reference to his finding, but would put the pupil size/intelligence link in the doubtful category at the moment.

    I said the following in my comment 22 to my posting “The Secret in your eyes”

    More to the point, (of evidence rather than credulity) Emil Kirkegaard has had a quick look yesterday at a much larger dataset and finds NO link with pupil size and intelligence. We will have a further look at this, to see if the measurements are comparable with the ones used in this paper, but at first blush it seems strong disconfirmatory evidence. We shall see.

  38. I wonder how much cognitive decline is caused by failing to use the brain so intensively after retirement? Does “use it or lose it” apply to the brain as well as the body?

    Perhaps the retired ladies who sign up for Italian classes or OU degrees (until they hiked the fees to protect the brick-and-mortar universities) are pretty sensible.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @AaronB
  39. @YetAnotherAnon

    Sadly, not much evidence of any effect, at least those based on self reported interests.

  40. AaronB says:


    Cognitive decline in old age is really just loss of motivation, as ones competitive fire period is past.

    Old men who continue to compete remain as sharp as ever.

    And young men who aren’t motivated to compete also have lower IQs.

    It has nothing to do with innate ability. A substantial component of IQ is just motivation.

    • Replies: @YetAnotherAnon
  41. @AaronB

    “Old men who continue to compete remain as sharp as ever.”

    Not so – I could code for 11 or 12 hours in my 40s (with breaks), but I can’t keep that level of sustained concentration at 60.

    • Replies: @AaronB
  42. AaronB says:

    That’s a question of energy not mental acuity.

    Plus, at 60 I very much doubt you are still the young firebrand out to prove himself – as your motivation drops, do does your performance.

    I bet a 60 year old man with a starving family can code for 12 hours no problem.

    Most American men can’t do hard labour for 8 hours at age 60 – but I’ve seen 60 year old immigrants do that cheerfully, with a smile, day after day.

    A huge part of performance is simply motivation – and what “feels” impossible becomes entirely possible in the right circumstances.

  43. Aft says:

    Put on the x-axis reading time and on the y-axis will to purify the human race, and you will find a clear correlation. Of course correlation is not causation, but the correlation is there (just read the comments) and it does predict.


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