Mar 16 2009

High IQ and Avoiding a Darwin Award

Published by at 8:40 am under psychology

The book series and website, “Darwin Awards,” came out a number of years ago. Their moto:

Honoring those who improve the species…by accidentally removing themselves from it!

At the site and in the books you will read of individuals like this one:

(Winter 1995, Michigan) During the ski season at Sugarloaf Resort, a new lift operator was assigned to work the bottom of Lift 2. He was greatly impressed by the bull wheel that turned slowly above his head. The giant spokes on the wheel were impossible to resist. He grabbed onto a spoke and did a few pull-ups while the wheel turned.

After entertaining himself in this manner for a while, he decided to try this trick on the outer rim of the wheel. His timing was off. He did not drop down in time. Caught between the wheel and the lift cable, he was sliced in twain during this fateful final trip around the bull wheel.

Personally, when I read anecdotes like the above, I’m not so much inclined to think What an idiot; did he have no common sense! Instead, I recall the times in my more impulsive youth that I came close to becoming a statistic myself: Skiing much too fast down a slope and coming over a rise to find a boy sprawled out on the snow directly in front of me. The last-second evasive action I took sent me tumbling into a snow fence. Fortunately, I busted only a fence rail and the lens to my goggles — not my body. What was I thinking . . . skiing so fast I severely limited my control!

I wasn’t thinking.

Nonetheless, there may actually be a link between IQ and accident-proneness. Robust frontal lobes — mature ones — may indeed help a person avoid winning a Darwin avoid.

As the news release, High IQ Linked To Reduced Risk Of Death discloses,

a lower IQ was strongly associated with a higher risk of death from causes such as accidents, coronary heart disease and suicide.

Of course, a variable such as IQ score is difficult to tease apart from others including education, employment, and lifestyle factors like access to good healthcare. And the researchers did attempt to do that:

The researchers studied data from one million Swedish men conscripted to the army at the age of 18. After they had taken into account whether a person had grown up in a safer, more affluent environment, they found that only education had an influence on the relationship between IQ and death.

The researchers say the link between IQ and mortality could be partially attributed to the healthier behaviours displayed by those who score higher on IQ tests.

But I did read something in the study that made me doubt: a half-truth (as far as I know).

Previous studies have suggested that preschool education programmes and better nourishment can raise IQ scores.

Yes, significant differences in nutrition can have a long-term influence on brain development and IQ. But the research I’ve seen on preschool education programs and IQ suggest that the increase is short-term. The raised IQ tends to fall back down a few years after the enrichment program ends. Long term gains are likely sustained by . . . a changed lifestyle that includes greater cognitive stimulation.

It seems there are few easy answers. Besides avoiding the temptation to do pull-ups on a spinning chair lift wheel.

One comment

One Comment to “High IQ and Avoiding a Darwin Award”

  1. Knowing Alligators | the evolving mindon 16 Mar 2009 at 10:06 am

    [...] I would imagine, however, that a person’s level of drunk-ness might predict how likely they are to flirt with winning a Darwin Award. [...]

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