Fiona McCade: It doesn’t take a genius to spot IQ

The mere sight of a Rubik's cube makes some come over all light-headed. Picture: Getty
The mere sight of a Rubik's cube makes some come over all light-headed. Picture: Getty
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MY FATHER is supposedly very intelligent. His IQ is impressive, if you’re impressed by that sort of thing. He can do big sums in his head; and if you ever need someone to explain univariate normal distribution, he’s your man. My mother, on the other hand, comes over all light-headed at the sight of a Rubik’s Cube.

My Mum’s world doesn’t revolve around minutiae. She gets things done. Whenever she’s out and about, experiencing real life and dealing with it, chances are that my dad’s sitting alone in the car, waiting for her, his head buried in Extreme Sudoku.

They have two, very different visions of the world. Dad’s is intellectual; Mum’s is both practical and emotional. Until now, I’ve tried to see the best in both, but some new research from New York’s University of Rochester has just tipped me right off the fence.

According to the Rochester scientists, people with high IQs have “picky” brains. They can quickly and efficiently block out distractions in order to focus on what really interests them.

The researchers asked clever people and not-so-clever people to watch objects moving across a video screen. The clever people quickly homed in on small details; the dumbos didn’t and kept on seeing the whole darn picture.

The researchers came to this conclusion: “It is not that people with high IQ are simply better at visual perception … instead, their visual perception is more discriminating.”

But hang on a minute. They also came to this conclusion: “They excel at seeing small, moving objects, but struggle in perceiving large, background-like motions … there is something about the brains of high-IQ individuals that prevents them from quickly seeing large, background-like motions.”

Seriously? So high-IQ individuals will see the interesting ant crossing the road, but not the juggernaut about to mow them down? This is what makes people clever? Wow. It’s amazing there’s anybody left to join Mensa.

This study seems to be saying that the ability to concentrate entirely on one thing at a time is the ultimate proof of intelligence; that the cleverer we are, the more able we are to filter out those things we consider unimportant or irrelevant. If so, we seriously need to reassess our definition of intelligence.

From the evolutionary standpoint, praising humans who are inclined to stand still, oblivious, in the path of oncoming trucks, doesn’t seem too clever at all.

For example, if it weren’t for my mother, my ever-so intelligent father would certainly be dead by now. He can’t cook a meal. Can-openers confuse him. He has managed to ignore – sorry, I mean filter out – so many valuable life skills for so long, it’s fair to say that to all practical purposes, he’s good for nothing. The only thing my Dad does better than my Mum is IQ tests. It’s not much of a reason to feel superior, but many people seem to think it’s worth more than a bit of empathy, or basic common sense.

It might sound harsh, but my father’s high IQ has proved largely worthless outside a classroom, or a lab, whereas my mother performs useful – even life-saving – functions every day, so it seems unfair that no quotient exists to celebrate precisely the sort of qualities she has.

If seeing the bigger picture, observing the needs of others, and coping with it all makes a person low-IQ, then let’s invent the UQ, or Usefulness Quotient. A high UQ score will be awarded to anybody who notices the big lorry coming, and jumps in to whisk the ant-absorbed high-IQ person out of its path.

Even if no high-UQ people arrive in time to save their high-IQ brothers or sisters from the initial impact, they’ll already be rushing to help, having been unfocused enough to accidentally hear high-IQ wailing. Then they’ll start putting the higher being back together, not to mention calming the truck driver, repairing the truck and probably seeing the ant to safety into the bargain.

But some high-IQ people might have practical uses. They like to fixate, so they could be hugely successful as cleaners. OK, they might not spot the vacuum cleaner first time, or even the room that needs cleaning, but as far as teeny-tiny specks of dust are concerned, you’ll never need to say “you missed a bit” ever again.